Beltramini Plays Françaix & Nielsen

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FRANÇAIX: Clarinet Concerto. NIELSEN: Clarinet Concerto / Paolo Beltramini, cl; Swiss Italian Orch.; Alain Lombard, cond / Brilliant Classics 95994

The thing that startled me the most about this recording, made originally in 2013, is that it is conducted by Alain Lombard. Since I associate him with recordings made back in the 1960s and ‘70s, and haven’t seen any new releases by him in close to 20 years, I assumed that he was deceased; but no, he’s still very much alive and, in fact, 79 years old last month.

Lombard’s conducting style always struck me as lively but a bit too relaxed when called upon to play really fiery music. In these two works, however, his conducting is just fine, particularly in the Françaix concerto which is right up his alley. Italian clarinetist Paolo Beltramini is an outstanding technician with a lovely, bright tone who plays this French concerto with exactly the right ease and je ne sais quois. In the first-movement cadenza he dips into his lower range to produce some really lovely sounds. Irving Fazola would be proud of him. In the “Scherzando,” Françaix has the solo clarinetist duet for a while with one of the clarinets in the orchestra, a cute touch.

As for the Nielsen Concerto, I have two fine recordings of it in my collection; an older one played by Benny Goodman with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Morton Gould and a more modern one by Anthony McGill with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Alan Gilbert. This performance, though a bit on the cool side for my taste, is lovingly crafted by soloist and conductor, with Beltramini sounding more involved to me than Lombard. Still, the music floats in one ear and out the other like a zephyr on a breeze, and to me that’s not quite enough.

A split review, then. The Françaix is splendid, the Nielsen just professionally played.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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