Fanfare 5 stars review
September 2, 2023
I’ve heard a lot of clarinet music, and I’ve never heard it played with as much virtuosity as what I hear in Jonas Frølund. His solo debut album, the product of a concert series dedicated to Danish contemporary composers, covers two Nielsens (Carl and Mette), Stravinsky, Wagner, as well as the esoteric realms of Gunnar Berg, Simon Steen-Andersen, and others.
First, I’ll note that although the Stravinsky and Messiaen may initially feel out of place here, several other pieces on the album seem to make references to their work. Gunnar Berg, for instance, was a member of Messiaen’s circle, and it shows. Avian fluttering is scattered throughout Berg’s Pour clarinette seule I, and drawn-out “siren” notes reminiscent of “Abîme des oiseaux” from Quatuor pour la fin du temps haunt Poul Ruders’ Tattoo for One. Berg’s Pour clarinette seule I includes some moments that remind me of the first movement of Stravinsky’s Three Pieces: meandering and, as Frølund points out in my interview with him, chant-like. Berg encountered Messiaen in postwar Paris, too.
But back to Tattoo for One. Listen to this for a taste of what Frølund can do—a little more than halfway through, at the 4:00 mark, he plays a constellation of notes that sparkle at the most infinitesimal volume, like distant stars barely gleaming in the night. To play that many notes in succession that quietly in the altissimo register of a clarinet is truly impressive. His clarinet almost sounds like a flute. Moreover, Frølund injects an acute sense of rock and rhythm into this piece, and the last note is a shrill masterpiece—if one could convey a human scream on a clarinet, this would be it.
Another highlight of this album is Bent Sørensen’s Lontanamente: Fragments of a Waltz. Frølund plays with beautiful delicacy as well as both humor and sweetness, an appropriate mode for Sørensen, who contrasts lovely melodies with purposefully strange glissandos and other inscrutable sounds. Paul Rapoport wrote back in Fanfare 20:5, “Often Sørensen’s music […] has to do with decay—not darkness and death per se, but the processes they involve and invoke, and how they may be illuminated and brought to life (so to speak!) in music and related to both growth and stasis.” I see that reflected in Frølund’s mysterious and ever-evolving rendition of this fascinating work.
Simon Steen-Andersen’s De profundis concludes the album—and it’s a showstopper, no doubt. It feels like Frølund is at times trying to depict an actual monster; the ferocity and barbarity of the music is palpable. From beginning to end, this album is a phenomenal debut from a clarinetist whom I hope to hear much more from in the future. Allison Eck
Five stars: A virtuosic debut album from a clarinetist with finesse and tremendous dynamic range