Amati-Kraslice ACL351 Serie II, C Clarinet

November 30, 2008

Most probably I should preface this review with a bit about this large Czech company comprised of four factories and upwards of a thousand employees, manufacturing all instruments, and as many different types of clarinets and fingering systems that exist. A few years past I purchased a full-boehm Amati instrument from a fellow in Australia at an advantageous price and found it to be really quite a good horn, totally in adjustment and well made. Unfortunately by that time, the full boehm was an instrument that was a bit too heavy for my comfort. Whenever I do pick it up, it plays well and has remained in adjustment. My impression then of this large Czech company is of a well organized group of four comopanies who make serious and well made instruments of all types and qualities.

I was very impressed when first I received the ACL 351, series II C clarinet. Impressed with the finish, the intonation and the perfect adjustment. Even the case was impressive . I really like the first truly adjustable thumb rest I have seen on a new clarinet. It is at its mid-position and by opening the screw one can place it either above the ordinary position or below by the same amount. Most thumbrests are simply only able to go in one direction and aren’t placed correctly, including even the Selmer Paris , supposedly the industry stndard.     I learned to play on the Bb clarinet, first a metal instrument, rented for three months and then a series of either rented or purchased wooden clarinets, always in the key of Bb/Naturally I learned almost immediately that there was a partner to the Bb clarinet, and that was the A clarinet, pitched a halfstep lower and at that time, was a lot more difficult to play.We youngsters got A clarinets more to have them and to lug them around in a neat double case, more than to play on them. My first set of clarinets were Selmers. Their trademarks had been scratched off as they had been imported somewhat “under the table”, so to speak. I remember the A with a fair amount of difficulty associated with the supporting of the sound.

I mention these two clarinets as the ones that  students learned to play. There was never any discussion of the clarinet in C.There was however a special attention to transposing. Whenever we encountered a part written for a clarinet in the key of C, we were taught to transpose the part. There are C clarinet parts in some Beethoven Symphonies and Piano Concertos, and of course the C clarinet in the Symphony Fantastique by Berlioz, but these were traditionally simply transposed. The Berlioz Symphony in the last movemrnt, Dreams of a Witches Sabbath hs a long and difficult solo passage written for the clarinet in C, which is usually always transposed to Bb.

Even thouggh I have played hundreds of C parts, both Clarinet and Violin and Flute, I always played them on the Bb. The transposition becomes second nature and did with me as it did for anyone serious about the clarinet.

I cannot determine where the practice started of the manufacture of clarinets in C. I have always been tightly connected to the business of the industry and the Clarinet in C just simply escaped me.

I became interested, reading about the clarinet. Frankly, I decided to buy one simply to try, to see what the thing sounded like , and that was all.

As it is probably well-known I am completely skeptical about the clarinet industry, as I see it as that, an industry, simply dedicatd to selling clarinets….and mouthpieces, and cases, and ligatures, and every variety of fruit-cake stuff that one may attach to his or her clarinet for whatever reason you can think of. Basically it is a healthy way of making money. Except for getting in the way of a students progress when the student suddenly goes on an expensive quest which can result in an expensive clarinet or mouthpiece or other accessory which is or can be  the road to nowhere. I am especially wary of cults of clarinet players who collect and espouse clarinets of a certain make, and only that make and revile every other clarinet made. This practise has been somewhat diminished of late, yet remains in existance to the detriment of the peddlars and certainly to those students who are directed to this road to pursue the golden clarinet, the magic mouthpiece, the setup which will lead the student to nowhere, or perhaps someplace quite dangerous.

Yes, I find it a hurtful process, costly and serving no prpose other than to enrich….but only those who sell the items, and not necessarily those who buy .

But let us return to the C Clarinet. Yes, it is an instrument made by many if not all of the companies making clarinets, but more importantly it is capable of making a rather distinctive sound. The lowest register does not quite equal the grandfatherly lows of the Bb or the A; rather that sound is somewhat more refined and lyrical. It is almost like a longer clarion register up unti the altissimo which is only a bit thinner that that of the Bb.

The sound is very pleasant and the thing which is really wonderful is that you use the same mouthpiece used for your other clarinets, a very special attribute in the Cs favor.

I also really do like the size of the instrument and I find it more facile to play than my Bb or A. I like the staccato produced on the C and I find that legato passages have an interesting quality, somewhat different than that of the Bb.

I have owned this Amati instrument for about a month, bought it brand new and it played extremely well right out of the box, an attribute which I consider important. I find the workmanship to be excellent, as is the tuning and the plating to be first class.

Currently I am playing the Schubert Sonatinas, Opus 137, for violin and piano. Years and years ago, I had performed one on the Bb clarinet,but on C the sonatas are much more accessible. Perhaps I hear better in a C instrument, (I have always wondered about that) But, when I mentioned in my initial article that playing the C  is a wonderul experience, I can only reiterate that statement. Everything is a little easier, or perhaps it is a little different. After 60 years of playing the Bb, A and Eb and the Bass, I find the clarinet to be sheer fun and urge one an all to “get into it”. The advantages are obvious, the cons are minimal

Much Instrumental music began hundreds of years ago without designated instruments, merely parts.I have played so many parts of C instruments on Bb that I seen no problem in playing the C clarinet for them.

Besides that it is great fun/ The Amati-Kraslice ACL 351 , second series is a fine clarinet. I had to shave a bit of cork off the side Bb/eb, but that took perhaps one minute.

This is the least expensive or them all, I heartily recommend it!

Keep practicing,

Sherman

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Very Hard to believe, even harder to accept

November 25, 2008

Having learned much  concerning clarinets made of other materials than wood, one has to consider the implications of such materials There is of course cost to consider, for this factor impacts on every student or professional player picking an instrument. Over the years I have learned much about clarinets made of thee other materials, the very first one I’ve heard about is the silver plated full-boehm Selmer clarinet which was played by Gaston Hamelin as Principal in the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1930, a perfectly beautiful instrument, which I speak about on this site, and for which there is a photo. Of course Maestro Serge Koussevitsky took offense to this metal instrument and did not renew Mr Hamelins contract in 1931. The story is well known. Mr Hamelin, one of the worlds virtuosi clarinetists went back to France. A young Ralph McClane went with him to study. He wound up as Prinicipal Clarinet of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Another of his students was Harold Wright. He won fame as Principal in the Boston Symphony Orchestra for more than 20 years. All of these students of Hamelin played on wooden instruments, Buffets to be specific.Ralph McCalne worked for4 years with Hans Moennig of Philadelphia tuning and tweaking his Buffets, until satisfied. It has become a very well-known fact that if you want a well in tune Buffet, you had better pick perhaps five and take the best one, or have one who has the acumen to tune or rather retune some of the qualities of the Buffet: specifically, the sharp notes of the throat register, the flat low register, the thin sharp throat Bb and other varia.This story is repeated over and over again. Buffet is a nice responding horn unquestionably, however it is not without problems, mentioned above.

When it comes to the Buffet Greenline clarinet, I have heard that it is quite bright in quality, strident if you will., and it is definitely an instrument that can fracture at the first joint. There have been many photos of this transpiring. Too much pressure, someone leaning on the instrument or what have you.

The Greenline also suffers from the worst problems experienced by woodwind playiers who play for several hours a day in bands. The tenons can stick terribly even worse than the wooden tenon. of the Buffet.

As a teacher who has taught in a large Music Education institution where they have dozens of clarintetists playing in the band, the biggest single problem was the binding of the first wooden joint.

So, this also happens on the artificial clarinet?! What are we talking about friends? This horn costs more than 3000 dollars and considering that you have the famous Buffet plastic little finger dowels, ostensibly for noise suppression but proven again and again to be a tragedy just waiting to happen, a potential purchaser should be appraised of these facts.

I have also read the astounding statement that the greenline is the first instrument to take into account the dwindling supplies of grenadilla or mpingo wood.

NOT TRUE!

Ebonite has been around for almost as long as wood and this material absolutely doesn’t crack and is a much more flexible material and more natural as well. Anthony Baines in his “Woodwind Instuments and their History”(published years ago)comments that ebonite has a more dulcit sound than does wood, I believe he calls it “softer” in quality and not as strident.

Around for years, easy to machine, much more pliable, and much more impervious to atmospheric anomalies.

Big High School and University Bands were using ebonite (hard rubber) for their clarinet sections in the football bands for years starting in the 1920s Of course, the best ebonite clarinet available today is the Lyrique clarinet designed by William Ridenour. It is about a third as costly as the greenline, has a beautiful response and it dead-on as far as tuning in concerned.

This is an instrument which is manufactured in China and finished in Texas by the designer and tuning is exemplary. These also have not been known to crack. The dimensional stability is excellent.

These are just the facts about clarinets  made of materials other than wood.

Ths is meant not as adverstisement, but only as information which I know to be correct. This information  should be known prior to purchasing any clarinet. Choose wisely, and

Keep practicing.

Sherman Friedland


Elegy for J.F.K, a memory

November 24, 2008

Do you know this piece? It was written by Stravinsky in 1964 celebrating the passing of John Kennedy. It was composed for mezzo-soprano and three clarinets, as I recall three different clarinets. I may have performed one of the first few performances of the work. I remember it much more for the title than for the music as it is a twelve-tone piece with none of the immediacy of many other works by Stravinsky. It is rather stark and it is quite short. One performed the work more for its title than for the content.

Of course, thinking about November 22, 1963 brings back vivid memories of the exact day at least from the standpoint of the time immediately after receiving the news on a radio in a Chinese restaurant where we were having lunch between rehearsals. As we walked out of the restaurant, we were approached by one of those “man on the street” TV camers and I was asked my opinion as to the tragic turn of events. I dodn’t remember what I said.

Curiously enough, we were about to go on a short tour of northern Wiscnsin with the Soprano Elizabeth Schwrtzkoff.She was singing the “Last Four Songs” by Richard Strauss and the orchestra playing Don Juan. The program was hastily amended to include the “Air on the G String” from the 3rd orchestral Suite by JS Bach.

All of the performances of that fateful weekend were sold out . There was “standing room” only. All of the concerts were played to hushed auditoria.

The orchestra returned to Milwaukee at the end of the concert. During the next morning, I went to the drug store to get some Neo Synephrine nasal spray, a failry benign medication to which I was addicted. As I waited for my purchase, I looked up at the television set, saw that now-famous big white stetson on the head of the marshal who was escorting Lee Harvey Oswald to be arraigned. Suddenly a short man advanced toward him brandishing a pistol.It was Jack Ruby and he shot Oswald dead in front of the eyes of the nation.

Of all of the eery mwmories of that time was one indelible in my mind. The night before , a group of musicians fro the orchestra were having a beer at a local tavern. We were hoping that pehaps some  brave or diseased soul  might rent a boat, take it out on Lake Michigen, armed with a high powered rifle and “take care”of our conductor,universally reviled by the orchestra at that time.

The thoght seemed oddly prophetic, was not to come to pass, but Dallas, unfortunately for us all, did come to pass.

Keep practising.

Sherman Friedland


Unbearable throat pain while practicing

November 22, 2008

Dear Mr. Friedland,

my 11 year old son has been playing the clarinet for 2 years. However, he wants to quit now because he can’t get over a problem: when playing, he experiences a sudden pain in his throat in the region of his larynx. If he continues playing, the pain disappears and comes back in increasingly shorter intervals. Usually he stops playing after the first appearance since the pain is unbearable. The advice of his teachers was to relax his throat as much as possible but he finds that the moment he relaxes is exactly when the pain starts. Could you give us any advice on this?Thanks for your help,

N.

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Dear Mrs. W:
Certainly I can give you advice on this delicate matter since I have incurred it many times , especially as a student. One would suppose that a doctor should be seen, however since you asked me, let me give you whatever advice I have gained with this specific problem.
I would carefully ask your son if the throat pain is the sole reason that he wants to quit the instrument. Whatever that response, you will be getting some more information on the subject.
I would need to know what he means by the pain being “unbearable“, that being highly unlikely.
What I am trying to say is that there are other reasons he wants to give up playing and “unbearable ” pain is simply not respectable . Unbearable implies the care of a medical person, specifically “Eye Ear Nose and Throat” medical assistance and consultation. If you consider the pain to be “unbearable”, he should be seeing a doctor.
The first thing to do is to completely cease playing until all residual pain completely disappears, and then to resume playing again, carefully avoiding the pain and playing for short periods of time, gradually increasing the time spent practicing and perhaps the pain will have disappeared.
If not, I would advise you to see a specialist in the area of his discomfort, but I do respectfully caution you to determine whether or not he may simply be “sick” of the clarinet.
Somehow I would understand “unbearable”if I knew the person involved is simply fed up with the clarinet, a condition many of us suffer with from time to time.

best wishes,

Sherman Friedland


The Clarinet in C, a wonderful experience

November 18, 2008

I have often thought that certainly I had played every conceivable clarinet in the family in many different works. Lets see, there is the truly wonderful and difficult Quintet by Hindemith for String Qurtet, Clarinet, and in the second movement Eb clarinet. I have recorded that concert. Then of course, there is Pierrot Lunaire with the clarinet and Bass Clarinet part, and of course the many works with Eb and bass that are within the chamber music repertoire. But I had never played the C clarinet. Why? Because I was taught and have taught everyone to know how to transpose the C part, an easy transposition to the clarinet in Bb, and have performed more Baroque works, using either flute or violin parts on many concerts, even reading the part at a live recording.As far as the Berlioz C clarinet, it was always trnasposed, but is actually more suitable for the C. I never realised that the C had any real character whatsoever.

Try the Schubert Sonatinas OPus 137 on the C . FUN!

Was I in for a real surprise when I received this cute C clarinet, all plated in silver and more fun to play than even the Eb. It has as well a distinctive sound, almost embodying the true clarinet sound even more than the Bb, like a clarinet with an exra long clarion register. Sweet as sugar, I think, and I heartily recommend it. I am getting on, however I think I might like to play everything on C if I were still playing in an orchestra. Just think of all those Beethoven and Mozart Symphonies and Piano Concertos playing the solos on C clarinet.

I know  a great musician, Rovert Levin, a dear and old friend, who has written two sonatas for me. He loves the sound of the C and when he played a Beethoven Concerto with the Chicago Symphony, he mentioned that Larry Combs was happy to accomodate Bobbie and play the big solo on C.

So, we both love the C. And there are players who play the Schubert Octet on the C clarinet, So, dear friends, here I am after all of the years criticising those who did not transpose to the Bb, finding that the C clarinet is every bit as viable as the Bb, or the A.

Did I forget to mention that you play it with the very same mouthpiece as the Bb clarinet? Well, you do, and if you have a mouthpiece made by his majesty, Richard Hawkins, the clarinet will play all by itself.

The C clarinet for me is truly Holiday Cheer.

Best wishes, Have a Happy Thanksgiving and Christmas, or as we used to say back in the Be-Bop era, “Have a cool Yule and a Frantic First”.

Sherman


Antiques Roadshow?

November 8, 2008

Dear Mr. Sherman Friedland-

I hope you can help me learn more about my clarinet.  I bought it used from my teacher about 1977 or 1978, but have long ago lost touch with him, and want tolearn more about my instrument.  This is especially interesting to me as my daughter has started learning to play the clarinet, and I have joined her in her practices, after a long hiatus from the clarinet!

The instrument is a LeBlanc.  It has the “G. Leblanc Paris” emblem carved into each section (including barrel and bell); the upper section also has “France”engraved below the G. Leblanc emblem.  There are no model numbers or descriptions anywhere else on the instrument.  The right side keys on theupper section are side-by-side, with staggered tone holes.  The serial numberis 183.  It came with a Vandoren “1” mouthpiece, about which I also can find no information.

If you know anything about this instrument, please reply to my e-mail,

Thank you very much!

T M

T:
OK:
Leblanc numbers are always four digits. This looks as if one of them has been inadvertently rubbed off, which is common enough. I can almost make out the obliterated number, but not quite . Unfortunately, for the first number is the key, but even without it I can tell you that it is most probably a “Classic” model, which at this time needs no more identification than that. It is one of their top-line clarinets, and the keys look like they have not been inordinately worn, which is good.It is a very fine instrument, at least 40- to 60 years old, or possibly only a bit older than that. It needs to be mentioned that Leblanc was a much reviled clarinet until only the last few years, in favor of other French clarinets, but in actuality it was only bad marketing and the reputation, totally undeserved of come French clarinets. Leblanc is one of th ebest clarinets ever made, of which yours is included.

Feel good. SF

best regards, Sherman

Reply from TM:

Dear Mr Friedland-

Thank you very much for the information!  I feel a little bit like the little
old lady on the Antiques Roadshow…
I’ll keep good care of the horn, and play it more, since it “deserves” this!

Thanks for your help,

T


Key layout problems and recommendations

November 1, 2008

Dear Mr. Friedland:

I’m an amateur clarinetist who has played on and off for the last 40 years, but have practiced fairly seriously for the last 5 years. I played a Yamaha 24 up until last year when I purchased a Ridenour 147. I love the sound of the 147 but have not been able to adjust to the left hand keys played with the pinky–the B,C# keys are too horizontal (the Yamaha’s were more angled) and the G# is too close to the C.  I’m ready to make a step up to a better clarinet. I’ve thought about the Lyrique but it has the same left-hand setup as the 147 but I’m attracted to it because I’ve heard there is hardly any embouchure adjustment when going from the lower to the upper register or to the altissimo. What other models (new or used) should I consider in the $1,000-$1,400 range?

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Dear Sir:
Thank you for your note with its interesting question. It would seem that the Lyrique has the same problems the 147. The key layout is identical save for the register key which is the key which is shaved at the bottom so as to be almost flush with the thumb ring. I find this key to be a hindrance. Some 147s have this key. The question of embouchure change in the upper registers is completely individual.
My recommendation would be to go to the best Yamaha clarinet you can find within your price range, either the 450 or the 650, really quite a good instrument. You will be comfortable with either of those.
If you can find an Allegro, now discontinued, it may afford you as well as any of those. Its number is 550 and is of excellent quality. I have owned several. It comes with silver plated keys and gold plated posts, (needless, but cute) a nice case and a handy case cover. It is usually in the neighborhood of 600 dollars.

Now, if you are interested, I just received a “big-box” catalog and the prices for new clarinets are staggering, meaning very very high. I do have only one single recommendation  among them all and that is for the Yamaha custom, sometimes called SEV or SEY. I know they play as well or better than any other, the keylayout is nothing short of terrific , the tuning excellent. The price NEW for either the Bb or the A is 2169. Since I remember all too vividly bringing back beautiful clarinets for students from Paris costing new 3 or 4 hundred dollars, let that be a testament to my age and also to the savy of the retail business. Folks have  been paying thousands for Oboes , Flutes and Bassoons for ages, so the clarinet guys joined in. I know the dollar has diminished terribly, but the markup is really intense and makes me feel bad about the youngsters wanting a new beautifully made horn. Yamaha is the best deal. Take THAT to the bank, that, being the savings . We do have to include the key layout and quality control of the metal and plating, don’t we?

Good luck,
Sherman

an answer for : Jetur

Hello:
I still think the basic bore of especially the Lyrique is one of the best clarinets you can buy. It is unequivocally the best, especially considering the price.
However, it must be said, and I have, that the clarinet has certain faults which detract. The thumb rest and the ergomaniacal register key are terrible and do not work for me, nor for others as well. Please see above, and its additions.
Frankly, I don’t remember a bad or unusable thumb rest. Not in my life. And the register key is just stupid, unless you absolutely start with this system in place.
Some have issues with the key layout, which is different from standard, by far.
Am I saying that I don’t like these things.? Yes, but there are others who share my opinion as well. The thumb rest is unforgivable, just a Chinese copy of something that wasn’t a good original.
So my recommendation remains as above. Terrific, however with a couple of qualifications.
Best regards, always,
Sherman