Vibraciones del Alma - Maximiliano Martin -

How many superstar clarinettists can you name? Yeah, I didn't think so. Don't feel bad, I can't either. Yet the instrument is expressive, offers unlimited technical possibility for virtuoso finger-twitching lung-squeezing bravura while at the same time being capable of emotionally loaded lyricism - anything one would ever dream of for global stardom! And if you had any doubt about a repertoire both challenging and beautiful, this disc will convince you otherwise in a heartbeat.

After studying in Tenerife, Barcelona and at the Royal College of Music in London, Spanish clarinettist Maximiliano Martin became principal clarinettist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 2002. Since then he's released many acclaimed recordings of both chamber and concert clarinet music but this is probably his most complex and involving program yet featuring music from Spain, France, the UK and Germany.

The disc takes its name after and starts with Miguel Yuste's Vibraciones del Alma (vibrations of the soul), two pieces that establish Martin's beautiful technique and absolute comfort with virtuosity but the slightly more famous competition piece by French composer Henri Rabaud is where the Spaniard can truly showcase his unfaltering technique and skills. This composition often heard as an encore in concerts alternates extremely demanding technical passages with a highly lyrical central part requiring tremendous sustain from the soloist. The first pieces de resistance on this disc are the 1964 Three pieces for Clarinet and Piano by John McCabe, an ambitious composition where piano and clarinet finally appear as equals, even in competition at times. Although not fully atonal, McCabe's work here may not be to everybody's liking and I had to listen a few times before being fully able to enjoy the complex, jazz-like Brazilian-hued interplays. Although not necessarily the most easily accessible clarinet piece I would encourage readers to go through the effort of discovery, well worth the initial disorientation.

Widor's next piece fits very well in the program and offers a great example of this French composer's powerful style. Not a composition with organ as we are used to from Widor but piano and clarinet, Widor's huge dynamic contrasts and love for technical challenges are never far in this composition.

The second masterpiece on this disc and unquestionably my favorite is Weber's  Grand Duo Concertant. While not as famous as his two concertos or the Clarinet Quintet, this duo could not be more aptly named as both instruments engage in what can be best described as operatic arias, arguing, fighting and even flirting at times. There is little doubt that Weber had one of his early operas in mind when composing the Grand Duo Concertant.

Both soloists are simply excellent and complement each other superbly in this program, with Martin alternating a rich and sensual sonority with impeccable virtuosity while Mitchell provides far more than just background accompaniment and often plays as an equal in what is an unusual and ear-stimulating music program of not your Mozart's Clarinet Concerto for sure but who needed another recording of those? This program instead will open your horizons on what clarinet chamber music truly is all about.
18 August 2009