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Mozart, Schumann, Bruch, Stravinsky: Clarinet Trios - Wigmore Soloists

Mozart, Schumann, Bruch, Stravinsky: Clarinet Trios - Wigmore Soloists

BIS  BIS-2535

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Works by Mozart, Schumann, Bruch, Stravinsky

Wigmore Soloists:
Michael Collins (clarinet)
Isabelle van Keulen (violin, viola)
Michael McHale (piano)


As core members of the ensemble Wigmore Soloists, Michael Collins, Isabelle van Keulen and Michael McHale present four works for clarinet trio composed over a period of some 130 years. Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio was long believed to have been composed during a game of bowling. The writing is reminiscent of a conversation between three friends in which contrasts are not excluded: we hear affection, divergences and even disagreements. This atmosphere of friendly, playful, and sometimes very intimate exchange also pervades Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen (Fairy Tales). While its spirited conviviality might give the impression that this work was the product of idyllic times, it was actually composed during Schumann’s last full year of sanity before his final mental collapse in 1854.

There is a similar atmosphere of warm intimacy in Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces, written in 1910. Four of them are presented here, giving not a single hint of the approaching First World War. Based on a Russian folk tale, Stravinsky’s stage work L’Histoire du Soldat may be less good-natured than the preceding works. But the music is wonderfully entertaining, borrowing from various genres, including jazz. The composer’s trio version consist of five movements and has deservedly become his most frequently performed chamber composition.

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Reviews (1)

Review by Adrian Quanjer - November 27, 2022

If a top soloist like Michael Collins embarks with equals on a project, we all stand to profit from it. The choice is theirs the joy is ours. Three of the Wigmore Soloists, Michel Collins (clarinet), Isabelle van Keulen (violin and viola), and Michael McHale (piano) have joined forces for a varied programme of known and not-so-very well-known pieces, ranging from the classical period to contemporary music. Both Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio and Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen are core repertoire for a clarinet player, but Bruch’s Eight Pieces are seldom performed.

And what to think of the additional Soldiers Tale? Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat was composed as a theatrical work for three actors (the runaway soldier, the devil, and a narrator), one or more dancers, and ‘une petite orchestre’ of seven instruments. However, ‘to ensure its continued success’ Stravinsky arranged two instrumental versions. One of them (Suite No. 2), following the original instrumental score of 9 parts is the version most of us know about. The other one (Suite No. 1), using only five of the principal movements, scored for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano is the version played in this release.

There is no shortage of the Kegelstatt Trio on record, and some are even very good. Browsing BIS’s catalogue (and HRAudio’s database) one will find the same trio played by Martin Fröst: Mozart: Clarinet Concerto, Kegelstatt Trio - Fröst et al. A serious contender. The main difference is that while Fröst stresses precision, Collins addresses affection. The choice is up to the customer.

Ten years ago, the Nash Ensemble (an ensemble as flexible as the Wigmore Soloists and, according to their website: ‘Resident Chamber Ensemble at Wigmore Hall’!) released a CD (Hyperion) of Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen, which at the time was very well received. In comparison, however, I found that Collis & Co play a shade more articulate. Like a lively fairy tale. But then, of course, in terms of sound, they stand out convincingly. Agreed, an unfair comparison, but that’s how it is.

In Bruch’s Eight Pieces we dive into the world of late lyricism. Interestingly, however rarely recorded, there is another Super Audio release listed: Autumn - B3 Classic Trio. I don’t have it so I cannot give first-hand commentary. John B. and Mark W. differ, but even Mark is more nuanced than a jubilant David Hurwitz (Classics Today). The real difference, of course, is that Bruch has given the trio the choice to play the viola part with a cello, to avoid intonation problems. Both John and Mark referred to it.

In this BIS release, the part in question is played by the viola. And how! In part V Isabelle van Keulen’s viola shines so beautifully, with such lush sonority and pure pitch that I couldn’t think of anyone doing it better. Moreover, in the reading of the Wigmore Soloists, all four parts played in this release come off very markedly and full of melodious charm.

Moving from Schumann to Bruch seems like a small step and that from Bruch to Stravinsky a huge one. It is indeed hard to believe that Bruch and Stravinsky are near contemporaries. Or, more precisely that het Bruch’s Op. 83 was composed in 1911 and Stravinsky’s Soldier Tale in 1919.

In comparison to most clarinet trio compilations, whether good, bad, or so-so, Collins and his equals have added something that others have not: An intense glimpse into the struggle between a fleeing soldier from an ugly war, selling his soul to the devil. Gone are the sweet tones of Bruch. In comes the harsh reality of wartime, albeit under the cover of cynical entertainment. A clinical account. Impressive.

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France

Copyright © 2022 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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Comments (1)

Comment by Mark Werlin - November 27, 2022 (1 of 1)

Excellent review, Adrian! I'd like to add that these performances were recorded and edited in 24/192. Although 24/96 is the label's baseline resolution, more titles on BIS are appearing in 24/192.

Another 24/192 recording (not on SACD) of the Schumann Märchenerzählungen, Mozart Kegelstatt-Trio and all 8 Pieces by Bruch that I can recommend is on Lawo, performed by the Oslo Philharmonic Chamber Group.