Instead of the usual three, here’s four cheers to LP Classics, clarinetist Alexey Gorokholinsky and pianist Vassily Primakov for bringing to new life one beloved masterpiece and three lesser-known works from the creative talents of Carl Maria von Weber and Felix Mendelssohn.
As a longtime clarinetist then conductor for several decades, these compositions may speak differently to me than those who just love the art, but all four of them can’t help but delight anyone with the ears to hear.
Weber’s Variations on a Theme from Silvana (one of Weber’s less-successful operas) takes a thoughtful, understated (at first) theme and constantly reinvents it throughout the seven variants. It is fun and playful (Gorokholinsky always in control of every register; only the somewhat excessive finger slaps give anything to quibble about). Primakov, one of today’s ideal accompanists, shines brightly in Variant II, tossing off its technical challenges with deceptive ease. III allows the composer to ensure that the repeats (a) must be taken (b) provide a sense of improv at every turn.
Primakov’s energy and expertly rendered double thirds give IV extra pizzazz. V is engagingly infused with coquettish teamwork. Dark drama and radiant sunshine add welcome contrast to VI before its magical transition to VII features impish triplets, a lovely return and fond adieu.
“Equal partnership” best describes the performers in the most mature and challenging creation of the lot, Weber’s Grand Duo Concertante. Having had many, many experiences playing this work (almost always with the redoubtable pianist Evelyn Greenberg as partner), I was mightily impressed with both the artistry and attention to detail captured forever.
From the very beginning, it was clear that the protagonists were displaying a marvellous sense of “entre amis”; conversationally sharing the themes and working through the transitions in a most thoughtful manner. The Andante con Moto lifted off with a wonderful sense of misterioso; the many, heroic changes of register were finely rendered by Gorokholinsky; Primakov took stage with convincing authority when not being a model of support. Happiness and joy informed the Rondo Allegro, appropriately playful at times, very together and just the right touch of near-jazz on the way to its conclusion. An even drier staccato from the clarinet would have been the balance icing on this otherwise superb collaboration.
At the tender age of 15, Mendelssohn was most certainly punching above his age as a composer. Just a year later, he would forever dazzle the world with his Octet for Strings.
In this seldom-heard sonata, one can hear the young musician “finding his way” with structure, form and voicing. The piano frequently dominates, leaving the clarinet as commentator; at times accompanist. Both Primakov and Gorokholinsky are up to the task (the latter doing his able best with a B-flat trill that is virtually impossible to render perfectly). Of the three movements, the Andante—a virtual song without words—is a true gem that will last in memory for years to come.
This remarkable disc concludes with a transcription of the Heifetz arrangement of Mendelsohn’s spritely Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What a magnificent sorbet after all of the art that proceeded! Just imagine fairies flying about on cane reeds, spilling onto black-and-white keys. It’s a perpetuum mobile, coupled with merry chases. No listener can help but smile from stem to stern! JWR