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Som Howie, clarinet – “Premiere Rhapsodie” – Works of DEBUSSY, POULENC, BARTOK, RAVEL & Others – Cala

Very rewarding recital from this talented father and son duo.

Som Howie, clarinet – “Premiere Rhapsodie” = CLAUDE DEBUSSY: Premiere Rhapsodie; BÉLA KOVACS: Hommage a Manuel de Falla; FRANCIS POULENC: Sonata for clarinet and piano; BÉLA BARTÓK: Romanian Folk Dances; JOHANNES BRAHMS: Sonata No. 1 in F-minor; MAURICE RAVEL: Pièce en forme de Habanera; JOSEPH HOROVITZ: Sonatina for clarinet and piano; TED SNYDER: Who’s Sorry Now; SID PHILLIPS: Clarinet Cadenza – Som Howie, clar./David Howie, p. – Cala CACD77020, 72:51 [Distr. by Albany] (8/09/16) ****:

Som Howie is the very definition of young virtuoso. He grew up in in Sydney, Australia and grew up listening to and studying from Mark Walton at the Conservatorium where his dad, David Howie, was also Walton’s regular accompanist. Both are very fine players and this disc offers much to admire; especially for young clarinetists to emulate. This is also a very substantial program containing a few clarinet ‘war horses’ as well as a few lesser played works and new things.

In the ‘war horse’ department, Howie’s rendition of the Debussy, the Brahms first Sonata and the Poulenc are all very fine; indeed. The pacing in the Debussy is a little different than what is usually heard (very gradual in places; very agitato in others) and I felt similarly about moments in the Brahms. All in all, these are all very fine performances that make for very good additions to the vast collection and the discussions about whose to go hear. In fact, of these three, I enjoyed Som’s rendition of the Poulenc the most.

Actually what I enjoyed the most about this collection is the addition of those works which are truly unknown or not played enough. For example, the Joseph Horovitz Sonatina is one of my favorite works first heard and played by the great Gervase de Peyer. Similarly, the Bartók Romanian Folk Dances, arranged by Székeley and Berkes, have been around for a while even in this iteration but are always worth programming. The Ravel Pièce en forme de Habanera is more often performed on alto saxophone (and I think works better as such) but it is a charming and sultry work deserving of more play anytime.

I had mixed thoughts on what, for me, were the three genuine novelties on this program. I was impressed with the unaccompanied work, Hommage a Manuel de Falla by Béla Kovacs. This work does not directly quote de Falla very much but does evoke the very Andalucian gypsy spirit that pervades de Falla’s music; such as his well-known Three Cornered Hat. The two little jazz inspired tidbits which close this set did not do much for me, I have to admit. Who’s Sorry Now by Ted Snyder and the Clarinet Cadenza by Sid Phillips were both written for Mark Walton and are clever, fun and ‘showoff-y’ but they are an odd and extraneous way to close this program for me. This is already a formidable and lengthy program which could have closed with the Brahms or the Horovitz, let’s say, and not included those two jazz works and, perhaps, the Ravel, as well.

Som Howie is a gifted player whose abilities have earned him spots in major symphony orchestras through the world. He is a very talented young man with terrific technique and a liquid, clear tone and his father, David, is a superb pianist and truly symbiotic accompanist. My thoughts on the program are just my opinion and – in fact – if someone wanted a definitive performance of the Poulenc, Horovitz or the Bartok I would certainly not hesitate to recommend this recording for that reason, or just to hear some really fine clarinet playing at any rate. [At time of writing, Amazon has only the compressed MP3 files of this album, track by track (at 99 cents each). Frequently later on they will carry the entire CD…Ed.]

—Daniel Coombs

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