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Film Music: The Neglected Art, June 2010

I like the arrangement, the orchestra, and the soloist. While you’re listening to something familiar it is done in such a way that it’s opening up new territory.

…I like the clarinet playing and the subtle style of the orchestration.

…I would…recommend this recording as a different way to listen to the old standard Porgy and Bess.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, January 2010

Gershwin’s orchestrations are hardly sacrosanct—witness the fact that the band and orchestral versions of Rhapsody in Blue come courtesy of Ferde Grofé’s arrangements—so adding a clarinet, in Franck Villard’s Suite from Porgy, seems perfectly legitimate. The ‘smoochy’ sound of the clarinet, mostly taking the part of the human voice, is well suited to Gershwin’s music. I shall certainly want to hear this arrangement from time to time.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2009

Arrangements by the French-born conductor and composer, Franck Villard, of some of Gershwin’s best known melodies for clarinet and strings. All of the major events in the opera, Porgy and Bess, are included in a lengthy suite that ends with the crippled Porgy going to New York in search of his beloved Bess. The vocal line is given to the clarinet, and such numbers as It ain’t necessarily so is a willing accessory for such a cheeky adaptation, the tunes coming thick and fast when compacted into this suite. The extract from the Piano Concerto uses part of the original score containing a prominent part for clarinet, the arranger’s stated intent being to create a mini clarinet concerto. Probably not quite that, but an enjoyable piece. We also return to original Gershwin for the excerpt from An American in Paris, where the clarinet has that long lazy melody, the soloist given a few notes for other instruments. Finally the Three Piano Preludes are freely handled and in this guise are very attractive. The famous clarinettist, Michael Lethiec, is at total ease when the going gets tricky, and in the relaxed moments produces a succulent creamy texture. The strings of the Finnish chamber orchestra do their duty, but I wished the engineers had backed off Lethiec to give the backdrop a more immediate quality. The result, to my ears, would have been more persuasive. Certainly an unusual release.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, November 2009

There’s always something new in the classical-music field, you can depend on it, even when the “something new” is something old. In this case, it’s Gershwin’s music transcribed for clarinet and string orchestra, the clarinet being an apt instrument for Gershwin’s flowing, free-spirited, jazz-inflected musical world.

Franck Villard arranged these familiar songs and melodies, apparently quite recently although the booklet note doesn’t say, and he does them no harm. Of course, it helps to like the music of George Gershwin (1898–1937) and the sound of the clarinet to appreciate the album fully, yet even if you’ve never heard Gershwin before or haven’t given the clarinet much thought, you might still like these arrangements. The performances are lively and colorful, a little different, to be sure, and highly entertaining.

Things begin with a five-movement suite from the popular opera Porgy and Bess, and you’ll find all the familiar songs here following the chronology of the story: “Summertime,” “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” “I Got Plenty of Nuttin’,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” etc. Villard does a welcome job making sure the clarinet replicates most of the vocal parts, and Michael Lethiec’s clarinet playing is splendidly evocative. The five movements combine to form a suite over forty-three minutes long, so you get your money’s worth.

Of the accompany pieces, the Piano Concerto excerpt is my favorite, although the American in Paris excerpt is wonderfully expressive, too, and the three Preludes form a pleasant little mini-concerto…As far as Naxos’s sound goes, it’s up to their usual standards…Incidentally, I’d like to mention that Naxos do a terrific job with their booklet notes. They always seem to pack more information into a tinier space than anybody else, the booklet well organized and concise in both English and French.

Michael Barone
Minnesota Public Radio, November 2009

Villard’s made something of a clarinet ‘concerto’ out of Gershwin’s opera (and other scores), all to very good effect. Lethiec is a winsome soloist, and the Finnish orchestra backs him like the Benny Goodman Band. Fun.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, September 2009

Ah, the clarinet! George Gershwin, the jazz genius who in the 1920s decided to put a swinging stamp on western classical music, recognized the potential of the clarinet at a time when most ragtime and novelty numbers starred the piano. He kicked off the Rhapsody in Blue with a now-legendary clarinet glissando and peppered in three or four more great solos later on in the work…Now composer and opera conductor Franck Villard has arranged some choice Gershwin works for the combination of clarinet and string orchestra. And the program sounds like a Greatest Hits album: we have the bluesy slow movement from the Piano Concerto, a choice five-minute excerpt from An American in Paris, and the Three Preludes (originally for piano solo). Rounding out the album is a massive suite extracted from the opera Porgy and Bess…The brief extract from An American in Paris is very well-chosen indeed, and here clarinetist Michel Lethiec really makes the most of the gorgeous melody he is given (played by the trumpet in the original version)…The best performance, and best transcription, on the disc is also the last: an arrangement of the Three Preludes for solo piano. Much to my surprise, these arrangements really work, and the performance—especially the double bass playing with relish in the odd-numbered preludes—is quite enjoyable.

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