Michael Collins: The Virtuoso Clarinet II
Michael Collins and his pianist Michael McHale present us with a programme of pieces all expertly written for the clarinet, and very entertaining too. With the exception of Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie, better known in its orchestral guise, these pieces rarely feature in recitals or auditions, though four of them were written for exam purposes.
The Debussy sets the benchmark for what follows. The duo are alive to every nuance of this lovely piece, which Pierre Boulez has described, in its orchestral dress, as hovering between reverie and scherzo. Collins, playing a Yamaha clarinet, brings his customary warmth, playfulness and a wide range of tone to this work, as he does to the whole programme, whether drawn from the salon or of more serious intent. The Bernstein Sonata looks a bit dry on paper – Copland remarked it was ‘full of Hindemith’ – yet these players so enjoy the contrast of academia and entertainment it presents, though Collins does ignore a quadruple piano marking in the first movement. The cheeky Duo concertant by Milhaud goes with such an irresistible swing – likewise the playful Canzonetta by Pierné – that you want to jump up and applaud.
The Sonatina (1956) by Martin≤ reflects the composer’s native Bohemia and the New World, where he had been domiciled since 1941. A polka crops up amid more contemporary dance rhythms in the typically buoyant first movement. Robert Muczynski, who was brought up in Chicago, composed his four Time Pieces in 1983; they all spotlight the clarinet’s chameleon characteristics in music imbued with the pulse of the big city. The 10 brief sections of the slow movement run like a film score, episodic and in black-and-white images. The finale is a real virtuoso turn, an arresting challenge before the players turn to the unpretentious bravura of the Solo de concours by Rabaud. This CD has been planned with great care, taking the listener from one enticing piece to the next in sheer delight.