International Record Review

There’s not a lot to say about this release. You’ll either like it or you won’t, and I doubt if I can persuade you, one way or the other. Here are 21 songs, by 21 different composers, from Brahms to Wolf. Pretty much (I think you’d have to admit, though the final Obradors “song” was new to me) standard singers; repertoire; you could probably guarantee to hear at least half of them over a single month at, say, the Wigmore Hall; and the other half, a month later. Not, however, in this form, where the vocal line is played on the clarinet, with I think only the mildest of arrangement where essential.

Every possibility of individual verbal nuance and inflexion is thus neutralised, to be replaced with a generalised beauty of sound. I am not necessarily an enthusiast for over-inflected performance of Lieder, but this anthology is almost enough to make me recant. Given that the idiom is mostly though not entirely nineteenth century, there is of course lots of lovely, even cosy, deliquescent melody around. There’s not much drama though. Nor can I discern any real logic to the sequence of the pieces as they appear on the disc; alphabetical would have done just as well, if all pretence of planning is to be abandoned.

Cristo Barrios (how many other Canarian clarinettists can you name?) makes a nice individual sound, reedier than some, and has great breath-control; and I am sure he has absorbed all the texts, which are generously printed in full in the booklet. There is no shortage of beautiful moments, and even surprises; how well, for example, Vaughan Williams’s ‘The Roadside Fire’ from Songs of Travel survives its unexpected translation! The pianist Clinton Cormany neatly executes all that is required of him, though the piano sound is rather shallow, and also argues literately in the notes on behalf of these transcriptions. However, this is no substitute for the real thing, is it? Wouldn’t you want to have these words alongside Obradors’s nice tune, to see just how they combine?

Tiny is the bride
Tiny is the groom
Tiny is the living room
Tiny is the bedroom
That is why I want a tiny bed
With a mosquito net

—Piers Burton-Page