Vladimir Soltan – “Clarinet Concertos” by NIELSEN, DEBUSSY & FRANCAIX – MD&G

Some very fine playing worth having and comparing.

Vladimir Soltan – “Clarinet Concertos” = CARL NIELSEN: Clarinet Concerto, Op.57; CLAUDE DEBUSSY: Premiere Rhapsodie; JEAN FRANÇAIX: Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra – Vladimir Soltan, clarinet/Hamburger Symphoniker/Jose Luis Gomez – MD&G multichannel SACD MDG901-1964-6, 57:41 (2+2+2) (8/05/16) [Distr. by E1] ***1/2:

This collection of clarinet masterworks is very interesting in that it gives us a bit of a different look at the much performed Nielsen Concerto and perhaps an introduction to the not nearly as well known Françaix Concerto. All of these performances, including that of another clarinet staple; the Debussy Rhapsodie, are very well-done and worth your attention.

Vladimir Soltan is a very fine young player who studied with Karl Leister, among others. He has nice, warm tone and a very supple technique. There are moments in the Nielsen where intonation and warmth seem not as well-defined in the uppermost register as in the rest of the work and Soltan’s lower register but this is a minor issue. He is a very good player, indeed, whose career so far has been exclusively in the solo realm. His performance of the Nielsen is a little unusual in that the pace and tempi are a bit more relaxed than what one usually hears. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly that piece has plenty of fireworks and staccato to keep the soloist busy. In fact, when played ‘too’ fast we sometimes miss some of those passages that showcase Nielsen’s flair for lovely and somewhat ‘bluesy’ melody. This rendition is nice. If a clarinetist wants to hear just some straight- forward technically attention getting “ripping”, there is the iconic Stanley Drucker recording and certainly that of Martin Fröst.

Soltan’s recording of the “must know” Debussy Premiere Rhapsodie is similarly minded; not at all a ‘concerto’ of course. This work is so full of Debussy’s trademark lush harmonies and beautiful melodies that Soltan’s ‘medium’ speed and very characteristic approach to the style is much appreciated.

The Jean Françaix Concerto is not very often performed and is a bit notorious among clarinetists for its extreme difficulty; written for B-flat clarinet in A major (B major for the instrument) with sections in the dominant E major (e.g. F-sharp major) and so forth. (I know a couple of professionals who have transcribed the piece for clarinet in A; which makes the key signatures way easier but it also changes the “sound” of the piece and this is generally viewed as ‘clarinet heresy’) There are also very few places for breathing and resting (a similar – perhaps worse – issue exists with the Milhaud Concerto.) So, this piece is not a mainstream work; viewed by many clarinetists as not really worth the effort. It is also a little quirky and capricious for most concert-goers’ tastes. None the less, it is a fun and sometimes playful work and Soltan handles the requisite gymnastics quite well.

I think the main reason to get this disc is for the Françaix which does not get the play or the recordings that the Nielsen and the Debussy get. (Among the very few extant recordings, Dmitri Ashkenazy’s is worth a comparison, in my opinion) I cannot honestly say that Soltan’s rendition of the Nielsen or of the Debussy should be “the” must-have version of those pieces but this is a recording well worth exploring, especially for aspiring young clarinet professionals.

—Daniel Coombs

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