Michel Portal & Paul Meyer - Double - Gramophone

‘Double’ clarinets could, I suppose, have been a bit of a procession of unremarkable and maybe overlong Classical and early Romantic concertos, of which the example by Carl Stamitz might have been typical. But no, Michel Portal and Paul Meyer have been more imaginative than that. Though they stick with their conventional clarinets, Mendelssohn’s Konzertstücke are the only other pieces actually written for them. Telemann’s Concerto was originally for two chalumeaux (the clarinet’s simpler but rather soulful predecessor), while his unaccompanied Sonata is for flutes or violins. Portal and Meyer imitate the chalumeau’s woody low voice beautifully, especially in the concerto’s mellow opening Largo, and carry the same colouring over into the Sonata. One has to admire, too, their smooth softness of line in the slow movements of these pieces, if not so much the diddly trills in the faster ones. CPE Bach’s refined Duet was composed for a musical clock, and there is also a rapt arrangement by Takemitsu for single clarinet and strings of the yearning ‘October’ from Tchaikovsky’s piano cycle The Seasons, performed with loving care by Meyer, albeit with somewhat pallid support from the strings.

The two Mendelssohn pieces were written for Heinrich and Carl Baermann, who were delighted with them, as well they might have been. These are real Mendelssohnian inspirations, full of life, variety and invention, and surely the only other thing the father-and-son duo could have wished was for them to be longer – though each has three perfectly formed concerto movements, neither seriously outruns eight minutes.

As for the Stamitz, if it is indeed not a remarkable work it is still pleasant company: a bright and cheerful first movement that glints with high-horn highlights, an amiably operatic lyric duet for a slow movement, and an old-fashioned Tempo di minuetto finale, all written with a skill and personality that prevent the piece from outstaying its welcome. Portal and Meyer are a perfectly matched pair, their joint tone immensely pleasing as they frolic among the thirds and sixths.

06 October 2020