“The Clarinet in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries from Solo to Quartet” – Music of ERNESTO CAVALLINI, DOMENICO SCARLATTI & others – Stark Quartet – Tactus TC890001, 62:14 [Distr. by Naxos] (11/11/16) ***:

Very nice playing in this collection for the true enthusiast.

There is a decent amount of repertoire (well, pretty large actually) for clarinet ensembles. However, most of it lies in the transcriptions category or is to be found in the pre-twentieth century realm. The reasons for this are understandable in that many composers found the advances in clarinet making since the work of Klosé and Buffet quite intriguing. This, combined with the portability of these ensembles, often gave composers an attractive alternative to the standard string quartet sound or the very unique declamatory timbres of brass ensembles, so popular in the late Baroque.

This album goes to show that there are some very nice works from the mid-nineteenth century to be sure but also some examples from the early to mid-twentieth century. (The advent of the true virtuoso player and extended techniques playable on very advanced instruments has given rise to more concerti and solo rep than any ensembles like this the past fifty to seventy years, though.)

None the less, the present music and much like it remains a bit of a niche attraction for the true enthusiast. The composers represented here include the fairly well known Ernesto Cavallini and Domenico Scarlatti (in a keyboard transcription work) but also others that are truly obscure; Raffaele Gervasio, Valentino Bucchi, Henghel Gualdi, Giuseppe Gherardeshi, Guglielmo Cappetti and Bernardino Lanzi. All of these composers are Italian by heritage or have worked mainly in Italy.

As to the music, I confess I did not care too much for the solo clarinet works included, although the Concerto for Solo Clarinet by Bucchi had some interesting riffs. I greatly preferred the ensemble works, especially the Quartets by Cavallini and the charming Petite Suite by Lanzi.

The Stark Quartet (containing no one named Stark; nor any booklet information on this group, I am sorry to say) plays very well with a lovely ensemble sound. This may be one of those albums that appeals mostly to clarinet players in search of some good but largely unknown repertoire. For very fine performances though this offering does succeed.

—Daniel Coombs