Thursday, June 18, 2020

Wigmore Hall, London

Michaels Collins and McHale opened with Camille Saint-Saëns’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Opus 167, from 1921, one of his final compositional souvenirs. It’s a gem, the opening movement, of four, somewhat bittersweet, certainly touching, if becoming more animated, and followed by a movement that darts hither and dither, with French elegance retained. Third, in a piece that has much to say without obliterating the pages it is written on, is heavy of heart, the piano tolling, the clarinet, low in its register, darkly expressive, becoming enigmatic; and, finally, something of a whirlwind, brilliantly dispatched by this virtuoso and attuned duo, before the music returns to its lyrical base.

Also in E-flat is Carl Maria von Weber’s Grand Duo Concertant (Opus 48, 1815), a three-movement Sonata in all but name, opening in perky style, as much a technical challenge for the pianist as the clarinettist, music that strides with confidence and brilliance, followed by a brooding aria-like movement (if it were from an opera, it would a tragic one), such gloom dispersed by a glittering if shapely Finale – we’ve had the song, now here’s the dance – although Weber can’t resist throwing in even-more notes, not least for the coda, these performers unfazed.

As for Saint-Saëns, Francis Poulenc was on his last lap of life (we now know) when he completed his Clarinet Sonata in 1962, in memory of Arthur Honegger, first-performed the following year by Benny Goodman and Leonard Bernstein (the composer already deceased, felled by a heart attack, although he should have been seated at the piano). Angularity, speed and melancholy inform the first movement, and its successor, entitled ‘Romanza’, is a sad song indeed, very poignant, whereas the Finale is a razzle-dazzle pay-off, Collins and McHale in electrifying form.

For an encore: the pianist’s arrangement of a traditional Irish melody, soulful and quiet lovely.