Clarinetist Sam Boutris. (samboutris.com)

Clarinetist Sam Boutris’ “Phases” proves a promising debut album, though primarily transcriptions

ALBUM REVIEW:
Phases
Sam Boutris, clarinet; Sophiko Simsive, piano.
Louis CAHUZAC: Cantilène
Robert SCHUMANN: Three Romances, Op. 94
Luigi BASSI: Fantasy on Themes from Verdi’s “Rigoletto”
Claude DEBUSSY (arr. Boutris): Suite Bergamasque, L. 75: III. Clair de Lune
Carl NIELSEN: Fantasy Piece for Clarinet and Piano in G minor
Carl Maria von WEBER: Andante e Rondo Ungarese, Op. 35
Musica Solis MS202401
Formats: digital
Release Date: January 26, 2024
Total Duration: 47:07

Giorgio Koukl | 8 JAN 2024

The new debut album from clarinetist Sam Boutris with pianist Sophiko Simsive, entitled Phases, is an eclectic mixture of mostly transcribed pieces from nineteenth-century composers.

MS202401 cover art

MS202401 cover art

It opens with a short Cantilene by Louis Cahuzac (1880-1960), who is today a not-so-well-known French clarinetist and composer. This is typically light, easy, and rather conservative music, clearly written for the pleasure of the Parisian public, and definitely a well-chosen opener. Mr. Boutris offers an excellent, soft, cultivated clarinet sound with ample dynamical range, maximum easiness in the highest register, and admirable virtuosity. He is distinctly at his ease in brilliant passages, delivering some breath-taking virtuosity fireworks. He is very well accompanied by Ms. Simsive, who manages to be perfectly present without being dynamically invasive.

The next piece is a transcription of Three Romances Op. 94 by Robert Schumann (1810-1856). The single parts are: “Nicht schnell,” “Einfach- innig,” and “Nicht schnell.” Despite the fact that the composer, in a letter to his editor Simrock, refused to transcribe this composition for clarinet, it has been used extensively in this form. It must be said that this music sounds fantastic with clarinet instead of violin or the original oboe. Written in December 1849 in Dresden, Germany, it was one of the last works of Schumann before his mental health problems fully exploded and brought him to a premature death.

Boutris plays this soft and mostly cantabile music with a pleasant nostalgia, good dynamic range, and generally elegant phrasing. It may be the score in which he shows most of his capacities.


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The 19th century certainly had no shortage of original clarinet literature, especially in France; we can mention only a few names like Rabeaud, Brusselmans, and Barat with their fine contributions to this instrument, but elsewhere in Europe, there was clearly some lack of popular music for clarinet. So it is no wonder that the clarinetist of “La Scala” Milan, Luigi Bassi (1833-1871), asked directly for permission from Giuseppe Verdi to transcribe arias from his opera Rigoletto.

The Italian maestro promptly granted this permission with one exception: Verdi prohibited using the aria “La donna è mobile,” reserving it for opera use only. Bassi presents cascades of prestissimo notes and truly challenging passages, all this elegantly played “with a smile” by Mr. Boutris, who seems to enjoy the piece.

Another transcription follows; this time by Boutris himself. The iconic Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) certainly is a nice melody, but the idea of splitting the part between the piano and the clarinet is, in my opinion, not the best one. Generally, transcribing this music may not be such a great idea despite the beauty of this well-known tune.



Finally, a second original composition for clarinet is included: the short Fantasy Piece for Clarinet and Piano in G minor by Carl Nielsen (1865-1931).

While Nielsen is well known for his highly original Clarinet Concerto, this minor work of his youth, written even before his Op. 1, has far less to offer to the listener. A short four minutes of semi-romantic sweet melody, it may not be the best choice for a debut CD. It is well played, and both interpreters are doing their best to find some interest in this score, but without great success.

The last piece presented is from a composer who has done a lot for clarinet literature: Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) wrote two clarinet concerti that are great soloistic pieces, and many shorter scores, most of them extremely well-written for the clarinet.



Strangely enough, Boutris decided to include Andante and Rondo Ungarese, Op. 35 instead, a piece written for bassoon and piano in 1813 when Weber was acting as opera director for Prague.

It certainly is playable on clarinet and is not lacking the charming scherzoso parts for which the composer is rightly famous, but knowing the great clarinet literature from which a choice was possible, I honestly do not understand this particular selection. For a debut album, it would certainly be beneficial to cover a more ample field of clarinet literature, so as to show more of the no doubt abundant capacities of Sam Boutris.

In any case, Boutris’ musicality remains clearly visible in the chosen repertoire and is auspicious for his career.

Clarinetist Sam Boutris and pianist Sophiko Simsive will perform with the Aizuri Quartet on Monday, January 29, 2024 @ 7:30pm in a concert at Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, in New York City.
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About the author:
Giorgio Koukl is a Czech-born pianist/harpsichordist and composer who resides in Lugano, Switzerland. Among his many recordings are the complete solo piano works and complete piano concertos of Bohuslav Martinů on the Naxos label. He has also recorded the piano music of Tansman, Lutosławski, Kapralova, and A. Tcherepnin, amongst others, for the Grand Piano label. (photo: Chiara Solari)

Read more by Giorgio Koukl.

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