Francaix, Nielsen: Clarinet Concertos

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This new recording presents two 20th century Clarinet Concertos, by Carl Nielsen and Jean Francaix, each a masterwork in their genre.
The Clarinet Concerto by Danish composer Carl Nielsen was premiered in 1928 by Aagen Oxenvad, dedicatee of the work, and who was also closely involved in the creation of the work. It is a bold, highly expressive and virtuoso work, full of extreme contrasts so characteristic of Nielsen. It became a cornerstone of the repertoire.

Composer: Jean Françaix and Carl Nielsen
Artists: Paolo Beltramini (clarinet), Orchestra della Svizzera Italiano,
Alain Lombard (conductor)

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A unique pairing on record of 20th-century clarinet concertos, full of musical laughter and mischief. As principal clarinet of the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana based in Lugano, Paolo Beltramini may be seen on many films of the orchestra in action such as a beautifully shaded set of the Brahms symphonies filmed by Sony and conducted by Markus Poschner. Beltramini shines in Brahms’s slow movements with many solos of doleful and consoling ease.

For this album, his debut on Brilliant Classics, he leaves his chair and stands out front for two clarinet concertos which have enjoyed strikingly different fortunes. The Nielsen is a classic of the genre, probably the best-known and most-played example from the last century, abounding in Nielsen’s zany humour and rebellious temperament. This four-movement work opens conventionally enough with a cheeky little melody soon taken on a gentle flight of fancy by the soloist, but it’s clear, as so often with this composer, that danger and even catastrophe lurk around the corner. Nielsen intended as a portrait of a leading Danish clarinettist of his time, Aage Oxenvad, who was reportedly ‘somewhat choleric in temperament, irascible but warm at heart.’ The concerto, it was said by those who knew him, captured the very soul of Oxenvad.

Outside his native France, the reputation of Jean Françaix has not flourished like that of Nielsen, especially since his death in 1997. Françaix was a fluent musician to a fault, born and brought up within a deeply musical family unlike Nielsen, and blessed with a ready way with melody. In 1968 he wrote this four-movement concerto and dedicated it to the bassoonist and conductor Fernand Oubradous; the first soloist was one of his students, Jacques Lancelot.

Françaix admitted (not without pride) that the concerto was ‘a kind of aerobatics display for the ear, complete with loops, wing-turns and nose-dives which are fairly terrifying for the soloist’ – and indeed both works here stretch the technique of any clarinettist to the limit.


Jean Françaix

00:00 Clarinet Concerto: I. Allegro
07:33 Clarinet Concerto: II. Scherzando
13:11 Clarinet Concerto: III. Andantino
18:14 Clarinet Concerto: IV. Allegrissimo

Carl Nielsen

24:20 Clarinet Concerto I. Allegreto un poco
33:19 Clarinet Concerto: II. Poco adagio
38:26 Clarinet Concerto: III. Allegro non troppo
44:50 Clarinet Concerto: IV. Allegro vivace

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