Classical CD Reviews
NIELSEN: Clarinet and Flute Concertos; Woodwind Quintet – Sabine Meyer, clarinet/ Emmanuel Pahud, flute/ Stefan Schweigert, bassoon/ Jonathan Kelly, oboe and English horn/ Radek Baborak, French horn/ Berlin Philharmonic/ Simon Rattle, conductor – EMI
Published on October 26, 2007
Two great stars on the international woodwind scene give us a perfectly conceived coupling here, aided and abetted by the hottest conductor in the world and his ever-so-brilliant band. I have stated before that there is no finer clarinet player than the once-screwed-over Sabine Meyer (the misogynistic members of the Berlin Phil rejecting her first-chair candidacy because her playing was too “soloistic”, despite the objections and ultimate resignation of Karajan over this issue), though she has made a comeback with that orchestra when she recorded with them at Abbado’s invitation. Now 48, she has peers, but in my mind still sits atop the great orchestral hill.
This recording of the Nielsen is fully up to expectations, though I do believe that overall it has been bettered by the surprising release on the Caprice label on a CD called “Nordic Clarinet Concertos” by the unexpectedly superb playing of Karin Dornbusch (21649, and well worth seeking out). The sound there is closer and more brilliant than this one, though this one is very good indeed, but ultimately I think that conductor Petri Sakari understands this music better than Sir Simon, and his Gavle Symphony Orchestra plays with an innate sense of style that the Berliners lack. That release also has two other modern works by John Fernstrom and Jouni Kaipainen that are essential contemporary pieces. Nevertheless, if it is this coupling that you are looking for, there is no better modern disc available.
Emmanuel Pahud took over the Berlin duties at the age of 22, the youngest player in the orchestra to hold a Principal position, one that he relinquished in 2000 only to return to his senses and the orchestra in 2002. He is a superb player, as the recording testifies, though I get a little nostalgic for the warm, inviting sound of Julius Baker in his New York/ Bernstein recording, also in both of these concertos, though that one is criminally now languishing in the Sony/BMG vaults. (Boy, will those guys have a lot to answer for on the Day of Judgment.) So de facto, this one becomes the top choice, and don’t let my sense of the good ol’ days mar your enjoyment of Pahud’s playing.
The Quintet is of course a standard of the literature, and my favorite remains the one also on Caprice by the Amadé Quintet (21746), a truly magnificent reading. Meyer, Pahud and friends sat down for a little impromptu reading of this work, and they do a creditable job, with some truly sensational playing. What I miss is again the Nordic sensibility that the Amadé brings to the music, but if I had not heard them I would be content with this one.
EMI gives them very beautiful sound, though the Flute Concerto was recorded live at the Philharmonie in Berlin, the others at the Teldex Studios in the same town. I think the studio readings sound better, but you be the judge. These are, I believe, the first recordings by these artists of these essential works, and they have made a solid disc well worth owning, especially if the program attracts, though I will stick with my other favorites as desert island discs.
– Steven Ritter