Great Gramophone review
September 15, 2023
Here’s a novelty: an album of solo clarinet works, written – or arranged – for a variety of instruments and programmed in a sequence largely based on a post-lockdown recital in Copenhagen. The clarinettist is Jonas Frølund, who studied in Paris with Pascal Moraguès and Philippe Berrod (longstanding principals of the Orchestre de Paris) and is currently principal clarinet of the Danish Chamber Orchestra (he features on Adám Fischer’s recent Brahms symphony cycle – Naxos, A/22).
Frølund bases his programme around Danish composers – six of the nine composers represented are from his homeland – with a strong emphasis on the 20th and 21st centuries, including the premiere recording of Mette Nielsen’s Alone, an 11-minute work for basset clarinet composed for Frølund in 2021. It was written in consultation with Frølund, focusing on his new instrument and its characteristics. Nielsen writes duo passages featuring Frølund’s singing voice an octave below his clarinet, plus multiphonics in the third section. As such, it demonstrates Frølund the virtuoso player. It’s a work by another Nielsen that opens the disc: in what is tantamount to a teaser, Frølund plays the cadenza from Carl Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto – pungent and pugnacious. One hopes a full recording will follow.
Two well-known solo clarinet works from the 20th century receive excellent performances. Igor Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for solo clarinet are finely crafted miniatures, deftly played; the quirkiness of No 2 comes across well, while the jazzy third has energy and drive. ‘Abîme des oiseaux’, the solo clarinet section of Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, displays Frølund’s dynamic range and formidable breath control in the huge swells required. Frølund follows the Carl Nielsen and Stravinsky items with the first recording of Bent Sørensen’s Lontanamente, subtitled Fragments of a Waltz. It seems to nod to both composers, wistful and wispy, with sudden bursts of puckishness.
The lengthiest work on the disc is the premiere recording of Gunnar Berg’s Pour clarinette seule I, composed in Paris in 1957. It’s another display opportunity for Frølund, who tackles the giant leaps between registers with aplomb. Poul Ruders’s Tattoo for One is a high-octane work, hard-driven, often up to dizzying heights, played fearlessly here.
Simon Steen-Andersen’s ritualistic De profundis was written in 2000 for soprano saxophone. It is heard here in the composer’s 2019 version for bass clarinet. The soloist is also required to play a percussion set-up (mostly chimes) amid dives into the bass clarinet’s grungy depths. Acting as a segue into De profundis comes the only work from the 19th century on the disc – the desolate cor anglais solo from Act 3 of Tristan und Isolde, played on the bass clarinet quite beautifully. In addition to Frølund’s virtuoso range, it’s his sensitive programming that makes this disc such an interesting discovery.
Mark Pullinger, Gramophone, October issue 2023