Notes and Editorial Reviews
Clarinet Sonatas: No. 1 in A?; No. 2 in f?.
Florent Héau (cl); Patrick Zygmanowski (pn)
ZIG-ZAG 90303 (39: 39)
These recordings were made in July 2002 in conjunction with the festival “Printemps des arts de Monte-Carlo”; Zig-Zag Territories, a French label, gives no explanation of the seven-year gap between the recording and release dates. The delay may, however, at least partially explain the CD’s unusually brief playing time; if Zig-Zag had no other
related material “in the can,” this may have been the only practical form of issue.
It’s a shame—because, first, there’s plenty of room here for Reger’s third, and greatest, clarinet sonata, that in B? Major, op. 107; and, second, Héau’s playing of the two sonatas that make up Reger’s op. 49 is sympathetic and attractive, suggesting that his reading of the B? Sonata would be very much worth having.
Up to now, my reference versions of these works have been the 1988 recordings by Karl Leister and Anthony Spiri on Camerata; to my surprise, I find Héau and Zygmanowski even more convincing in the op. 49 sonatas. These two works, composed in 1900 as a direct consequence of Reger’s hearing Brahms’s two clarinet sonatas for the first time, form a pair analogous to Brahms’s: the first is more dramatic and varied in mood, while the second, despite being written for the darker clarinet in A, is more lyrical. Héau’s playing features more contrasts than Leister’s, with a greater dynamic and expressive range; the fast movements are faster, sometimes a good deal so; the first movement of the A?-Major, for example, with the unusual tempo marking
(translated as “excited” or “agitated”), takes 6:58 compared with Leister’s 8:24. Héau also makes more of the music’s ebb and flow, for example in the first movement of the F?-Minor (marked
). He brings out the whimsy of the A?-Major’s Scherzo more effectively than Leister, and in the slow movement of the F?-Minor he makes more of the contrast between the A section and the
These two sonatas, while not as immediately accessible as the third, are musically less challenging than, say, the two op. 54 string quartets. Héau makes a strong case for both works, playing them with complete conviction and command; his rich, supple, vibrato-laden sound, reminding me more of Jonathan Cohler than of any French clarinetist I’ve heard, gives him the flexibility to respond to the ever-changing character of Reger’s music. Zygmanowski is a first-rate partner, handling Reger’s complex piano parts without apparent difficulty and with constant sensitivity to the music’s contrapuntal interplay. The recording is more immediate than the plummy sound Camerata provides for Leister, allowing for greater transparency—again, a virtue in light of Reger’s complex textures. The minute-and-a-half
makes a nice encore, although the track listing misleadingly makes it appear to be a fifth movement of the Second Sonata.
Leister, of course, remains a formidable figure in this repertoire; his versions, currently available only in a four-disc set of the complete clarinet music of Reger and Weber, are recommended as always to his admirers, to those who are allergic to vibrato on the clarinet, and of course for the readings of the B?-Major Sonata and the great Clarinet Quintet. But for me, Héau and Zygmanowski set a new standard in these first two sonatas. Strongly recommended despite the short playing time.
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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