There is a certain paradoxical quality to the music of Darius Milhaud, a disjunction between the lighthearted sentiments to which the composer seemed continually drawn and the meticulous craftsmanship he exercised in conveying them. Likewise, the rather systematic manner in which he expanded his oeuvre -- he wrote a series of concertos for virtually every Western orchestral instrument, and made good on his early and curious promise to compose exactly 18 string quartets -- not only resulted in a very tidy catalog, but also in a thorough and keen sensitivity toward the idiomatic expressive qualities of each instrument for which he wrote. It is no surprise, then, that although Milhaud is not quite a household name, he is well represented in the standard repertoire lists of virtually every Western instrument. In the canon of clarinet music, Milhaud's Duo concertant for clarinet and piano enjoys regular appearances in recitals and has appeared on several recordings. Its owes its popularity to a mixture of virtuosity and sheer pleasantness; on one hand, it never resorts to sentimental pandering, or on the other, to empty pyrotechnics. Milhaud's characteristic harmonic twists, curious chromatic inflections, and momentary tonal diversions ultimately serve to add subtle, modern nuances to a lucid and unassuming expressivity. Milhaud had already familiarized himself with the possibilities of the clarinet/piano duo in his Sonatine, Op. 100 (1927), the Eglogue-Madrigal, arranged from his Four Sketches in 1941, and the Caprice, Op. 335 (1954). Accordingly, the Duo concertant exudes a breezy confidence in exploiting the clarinet's nuances of ornament and articulation and in moving between a clear solo-accompaniment format and more integrated, polyphonically oriented textures. Cast in a single movement lasting around eight minutes, the piece begins in a moderate tempo with a jaunty, fanfare-like theme in the clarinet. Initially, the piano provides a simple chordal accompaniment, but as the piece progresses, the two instruments increasingly tread on each other's territory; as gestures in the piano's treble range come to the fore, the clarinet meanders into curious polytonal counterpoint or echoes its initial fanfares in the background. In the lyrical middle section, the clarinet is given the full spotlight, the plaintive melody underscored by steady but sometimes poignantly dissonant chords in the piano. The playful fanfare-like material from the opening returns to close the work, ending with a quick flourish of virtuosic aplomb.
Description by Jeremy Grimshaw
|1994||Crystal Records Dist.||733|
|BBC Music Magazine||126|