“The Transfigured Nightingale – Music for Clarinet and Piano” by BRAHMS, SHOSTAKOVICH, RACHMANINOFF & Others – Jerome Summers, clar./Robert Kortgaard, p. – Blue Griffin

“The Transfigured Nightingale – Music for Clarinet and Piano” = JOHANNES BRAHMS: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano No. 2 in E-flat; DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH: Two Pieces for Clarinet and Piano (arr. A. Stark); MICHAEL CONWAY BAKER: A Canticle for Ryan; SERGE RACHMANINOFF: Sonata in G minor, Op. 19 for Cello and Piano (transcribed by J. Summers); MAREK NORMAN: Just Think – Jerome Summers, clar./Robert Kortgaard, piano – Blue Griffin BGR339 [Distr. by Albany] (11/11/14) 70:08 ***:

Jerome Summers is new to me. This Canadian clarinetist was a member of the Vancouver Symphony and taught at Western University in London, Canada for many years. As a clarinetist he has a very pleasant, rounded tone and supple technique and is very enjoyable to listen to.

There are so many “A-list” recordings of the Brahms Sonatas out there but one more is not a bad thing for such beautiful pieces. The E-flat second Sonata has always been my favorite of the two. This is an autumnal work, minus some of the sturm und drang of the first. Summers and Kortgaard play this work beautifully though I think it is a bit too “laid back” in places for my tastes. I am personally used to slightly more forward motion in the opening Allegro amabile and more push in the second, Appassionato. None the less this is beautiful music played beautifully.

What I like most about this album is the new finds; the “rarities” that comprise the whole rest of the set. For example, the Stark arrangement of two melodies by Shostakovich makes for very dark, brooding listening in the extract from the Symphony No. 12 and the well-known spiky scherzo of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9. These are entertaining to be sure but this is ‘clarinet famous’ audition material. I have a hard time separating the selections from the experience of sitting in the orchestra and playing them as intended.

A more interesting and more genuine “find” is the lovely, touching Canticle for Ryan by Canadian composer Michael Conway Baker (originally written for violin). This pretty little piece has some ‘film score’ tinges to it and I would have liked to know more about the title. One gets the feeling ‘Ryan’ meant something to Baker. I had a similar reaction to Just Think by Marek Norman. Norman is a stage composer and Summers apparently asked if the composer would set one of his songs from a production of “Wanderlust” for clarinet and piano. It is a charming and straight-forward work.

The other transcription here is the Rachmaninoff Sonata for cello and piano in g minor. Played here in Summers’ own transcription it works quite well and the original is such an idiomatic Rachmaninoff work, what’s not to like? I especially enjoyed Summers’ treatment of the lovely Andante. I have mixed feelings about transcriptions, to be honest. There are hundreds of lesser played – and perfectly tonal – masterworks out there.

I can envision Jerome Summers doing an album of music by all Canadian composers (including the amazing Jacques Hetu, perhaps) or even some of the great, but lesser known, English works like the sonatas of Bax, Bowen and Ireland.

In the meantime, it is always good to discover a good quality fellow clarinetist playing things a little off the beaten path. For me, I thought the Baker and Norman works were quite pleasant discoveries.

—Daniel Coombs

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