Bass clarinetist Michael Davenport continues to impress with his new release Chaconne from Alea Recording. This recording covers all the bases but mostly focuses on the lyrical and expressive possibilities of the bass clarinet. To open the disc, Davenport performs Hindemith’s authorized transcription of the composer’s Sonata for Bassoon (1938), made possible at the request of Josef Horák. Davenport displays a rich clear tone and a beautifully expressive vibrato and allows the true lyric quality of the bass clarinet to shine through.
Many selections on this disc represent new transcriptions for the bass clarinet by Davenport. The works of Nielsen, Rachmaninoff, Bach and Schubert chosen here are a response by the performers to find quality melodic material suitable for the instrument and to expand the repertoire. Each of these selections is successful in accomplishing those ideals. In the Nielsen Canto Serioso, Davenport finds the composer’s original horn and piano version perfectly suited to the bass clarinet.
The Rachmaninoff Vocalise performance on this disc holds quite a surprise. The “soprano” version of this work is featured via the altissimo range of the bass clarinet! Although not as delicate and flowing as the soprano version for voice, Davenport displays amazing control of this very difficult register of the bass clarinet. Next up is
Davenport’s beautiful adaptation of the world renowned “Chaconne” from Bach’s Second Violin Partita. This piece has been transcribed by many (including a version for piano left-hand by Brahms) and holds up extremely well here for the bass clarinet. Of course, certain harmonies are missed as compared to the version for violin, but the overall effect is awesome. The sound of Davenport’s bass clarinet seems its richest and most passionate during the Bach. An amazing display indeed, the last of the transcriptions is
Schubert’s The Bee, and once again Davenport shows off his amazing mastery of the altissimo register.
Two final selections round out this amazing disc. The Baden Sonata from 1978 is a wonderful addition to the repertoire and deserves more attention. The outer movements mostly feature the bass clarinet but the second movement is a beautiful duet for bass clarinet and piano. The Wolfgang Gabriel Ballade is the most dramatic work on the disc, featuring irregular meter and extreme dynamic contrast mixed with calm, peaceful sections. Both instruments are on equal footing here making much use of alternating dialogue. Davenport handles all of these musical challenges with ease.
Both Michael and Kimberly Davenport are virtuoso musicians any must be applauded for this awesome disc of music for bass clarinet and piano. The recording quality is near flawless. The clarity, especially of the piano, is brilliant. Only during the Hindemith Sonata does the bass clarinet seem to come across a bit too distant. The performances
themselves stand on their own merit. This disc is highly recommended. To find more about Michael and Kimberly Davenport, check out their excellent bass clarinet website at www.bassclarinet.org!
– Lawrence Gibbs, The Clarinet, Volume 30, Number 3 (June 2003)