Michael Collins plays Mozart’s 1791 clarinet concerto on the
instrument for which it was intended, the basset clarinet. He plays
Uzbek-Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin’s 2007 work Ornamental
Air on the instrument for which it was intended: also the basset
clarinet! If you count Kats-Chernin’s birth and home countries
separately, this CD thus spans four centuries and four continents.
The Kats-Chernin might be the highlight of the CD. It is a truly delightful
concerto, with a fluid, melodic basset clarinet line that seems to
hop across the globe with ease. There are very strong hints of the
composer’s central Asian background and other folk traditions,
and although the chugging bass accompaniment in the first movement
sometimes sounds a bit film-soundtrack-ish, this is not to the piece’s
detriment. It has the same lightness, charm and love of melody that
informs the Mozart and Copland, even if its style is very different.
There are eventually some hints of jazz too. I’m happy to report
that repeated listens show there’s more here than novelty value.
The Mozart feels less necessary. Collins plays it on basset clarinet,
with his usual fluid grace and finesse, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra
provides elegant accompaniment of the old-fashioned sort. There are
already at least two great recordings with great soloists playing
basset clarinet, Sabine Meyer’s on EMI and Martin Fröst’s
on BIS, and there’s no especial reason to choose Collins over
either. Collins does add a bit of ornamentation in the second half
of the slow movement, which is either interesting or sacrilege, depending
on your view - I choose interesting.
The Copland is much the same way: very well-played, and the Swedish
Chamber Orchestra offers sharp, clear playing which is a pleasure
of its own, but this enters a glut of great recordings. So you’re
probably buying this for the Kats-Chernin. If so, good choice: it’s
well worth your time. If you can’t commit to the cost of a full
disc for one piece, The Classical Shop lets you download lossless
files of the Kats-Chernin alone for just over a fiver.