Michael Collins is one of our most versatile clarinettists, possessing a dazzling virtuosity and sensitive musicianship that have made him the favourite of conductors, composers, and audiences throughout the world. Now an exclusive Chandos artist, Collins is embarking on a series of recordings designed to display the extraordinarily wide range of music written for his instrument. The present programme comprises a varied repertoire, concentrating generally (though not exclusively) on its more extrovert virtuoso aspects and offering some breathtaking show-stoppers. Well-known works such as Rachmaninoff’s haunting Vocalise contrast with the sunny brilliance of Giampieri’s Il carnevale di Venezia, and the playful, inventive French items by Milhaud and Messager provide a further contrast in mood and colour.
Weber’s bubbly Grand Duo concertant is also among the many highlights on this disc. Unlike other works of his, in which the main purpose of the accompanying instruments is to support the virtuoso solo part, the Grand Duo presents an equal juxtaposition of two virtuoso solo parts, one being the clarinet, the other the piano. The piece is a Duo in the true sense of the word. Another key piece is Milhaud’s famous Scaramouche. This was initially composed as a work for two pianos, but due to its immediate and immense popularity, the composer was soon called on to make several arrangements of it, starting with the one for clarinet and piano which we hear on this CD. The first movement, Vif, has a sense of breezy excitement that is intensified by the bravura cartwheels of the clarinet part. The gentle Modéré that follows has a lovely dreamy feel to it, which is in stark contrast to the vigorous rhythmic energy of the exuberant finale, Brazileira.
Moving to the present day, the disc also presents Simon Milton’s Carmen Fantasy which was premiered at the Harrogate Festival in 2009. Milton stays closely to Bizet’s harmony and keeps the tunes highly recognisable despite all the elaborations and mini-cadenzas with which he intersperses them. It is a thoroughly engaging work, well worth a separate mention.
Future discs will include one dedicated to showing the instrument’s lyrical qualities, and several devoted to clarinet concertos, including Weber’s and a group of British works.