Thursday 26 November 2015

The Shepherd on the Rock - music for voice, clarinet and piano

the Shepherd on the Rock - Ailish Tynan, Julian Bliss, Christopher Glynn
Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, Strauss, Schubert: Julian Bliss, Ailish Tynan, Christopher Glynn; Signum Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 20 2015
Star rating: 4.0

The Shepherd on the Rock at the centre of a programme of music for clarinet, soprano & piano

Having decided to programme Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock) for soprano, clarinet and piano, what else do you include in the programme. On this disc from Signum Classics, clarinettist Julian Bliss and soprano Ailish Tynan are accompanied by Christopher Glynn in a varied programme which mixes Schubert songs, Schumann's Fantasiestucke for Clarinet and Piano, with arrangements and transcriptions of music by Chopin and Richard Strauss.

Julian Bliss and Christopher Glynn start the programme with Bliss's arrangement for clarinet and piano of Chopin's Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major, Op. 3 a work originally written for cello and piano during Chopin's last period in his native Poland. We start with a lyrical, almost song-like clarinet accompanied by a flowery piano, then in the polonaise both performers bring out the stylish rhythms of the piece but there is a nice complementarity about the combination of Bliss's lyrical line and Glynn's rhythmic underpinning.

Ailish Tynan and Christopher Glynn follow this with a group of Brahms songs. Das Maedchen spricht has charming appeal, and is quite busily complex. In the quietly thoughtful Unbewegte laue Luft the performers start with a certain intensity and develop into real rapture. Es traumte mir is intensely quiet, with Tynan and Glynn creating a really magical atmosphere. In O kuhler Wald they are intense and thoughtful with Tynan creating a sense of confiding in us. The lightly perky Stanchen is full of charm. In all the songs Tynan sings with a vibrant, focussed line with lovely bright tone and a real feeling for the shape of the phrase and she is finely partnered by Glynn.

Clarinettist Julian Bliss then returns, as he and Christopher Glynn play Schumann's Fantasiestucke from 1849, a group of three lyrical pieces, freed from the constraints of sonata form. The first two movements are given a beautifully flowing texture with a lovely sense of rubato within the phrases, and a fine interaction between the two performers. The final movement is impulsively passionate and rapturous.

Tynan and Glynn then perform Schubert's well known, and lovely Ellen's Gesang III: Hymne an die Jungrau (better known as Ave Maria), creating something beautifully shaped with a sense of inner rapture.

A group of transcriptions follows. First, Julian Bliss's version for clarinet and piano of the Scherzo which was Brahms's contribution to the joint (with Schumann and Albert Dietrich) F-A-E Sonata written for violinist Joachim. Though there are thoughtful moments, the main impression is of a wonderfully impulsive and rapturous performance, again with a lovely feeling of rubato. Then Bliss's arrangement for clarinet and piano of Chopin's Nocturne in E Flat in which we get beautifully sung long phrases.

A pair of Richard Strauss songs follow, both arranged by Bliss and Glynn for soprano, clarinet and piano. Ein Alphorn hor' ich schallen is an early work (from 1876) and rather Schubertian in cast. There is a delightful intertwining of voice, clarinet and piano. Morgen is far better known, and once you get over the shock of hearing the famous violin melody played on clarinet, the transcription works wonderfully well with the slightly melancholic clarinet sound casting a lovely spell, combined with Tynan's lyrically yet rich tones.

Finally we reach Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen.Written in 1828 for the operatic soprano Anna Milder-Hauptmann (who sang the title role in the premiere of Fidelio in it original and revised versions), the song has the feel of a large scale concert aria rather than a simple lied. The music is complex and not a little bravura with the two performers echoing phrases and showing off their different prowess. Tynan and Bliss make strong partners here, with each tossing the opening arpeggios back and forth. Then in the subsequent sections they are finely melancholic and affecting with the final section being impressive both musically and technically, with the soprano and clarinet creating a really sense of balanced duo.

There are some lovely performances on this disc, with Tynan, Bliss and Glynn combining to make some real magic in the Schubert and Strauss. But as an examination of the 19th century's love affair with the clarinet the programme does not quite work. The solo songs for Ailish Tynan and Christopher Glynn have the feeling of items simply brought in rather than forming part of a coherent programme, and I rather wanted more of the arrangements for the three performers. So listen for the individual items and delight in the final item.

Frederich Chopin (1810-1849), arr. Julian Bliss - Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major, Op.3
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) - Das Maedchen spricht, Op. 107 No. 3
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) - Unbewegte laue Luft, Op. 57 No. 8
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) - Es traumte mir, Op. 57 No. 3
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) - O kuhler Wald, Op. 72 No. 3
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) - Standchen, Op. 106 No. 1
Robert Schumann (1819-1856) - Fantasiestucke, Op. 73
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) - Ellens Gesang: III. Hymne an die Jungfrau (Ave Maria), D. 839
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), arr. Julian Bliss - 'F-A-E' Sonata: Scherzo in C Minor
Frederich Chopin (1810-1849), arr. Julian Bliss - Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9 No. 2
Richard Strauss (1864-1949, arr. Julian Bliss, Christopher Glynn - Ein Alphorn hor' ich schallen
Richard Strauss (1864-1949, arr. Julian Bliss, Christopher Glynn - Morgen
Ailish Tynan (soprano)
Julian Bliss (clarinet)
Christopher Glynn (piano)
Recorded Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, Saxmundham, 18-20 September 2013

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