Thursday, January 26, 2012

Franklin Cohen plays Golijov

Sometimes words fail, and music must take their place when we shout for joy or cry out in agony. The clarinet is an instrument singularly capable of expressing certain profound emotions, and composers have often used it at moments of intense personal reflection. The Concerti of Mozart and Nielsen, the sonatas of Brahms, Poulenc, and Saint-Saens were all written close to the deaths of their respective composers. Combining the lyricism of the violin with human breath, the clarinet gives utterance to the soul unlike any other instrument; by turns joyous, melancholy, and probing.

Many composers, when writing pieces of real spiritual import, have chosen the clarinet as a primary vehicle. One such example can be found in Olivier Messiaen's monumental Quartet for the End of Time. Another has been written by Osvaldo Golijov, entitled The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind. Each of the last three centuries has produced an masterpiece for clarinet and string quartet. The late 18th gave us Mozart's, the late19th Brahms'; the late 20th century gave us Golijov's.

There are a growing number of excellent recordings of this piece. I remain deeply moved and impressed by David Krakauer's reading with the Kronos Quartet, but realize now that, as with any other masterpiece, Dreams and Prayers will never be exhausted by a multitude of great interpretations. Here is an important live performance excerpt by Franklin Cohen, who has also released a full recording.