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Fancy That!
John DANKWORTH (b.1927)

Suite for Emma

Leonard BERNSTEIN (1917-1990)

Sonata for clarinet and piano

Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)

Le Tombeau de Ravel

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)


Robert MUCZYNSKI (b.1929)

Time Pieces

André PREVIN (b.1929)

Passing Fancy
Fancy Passing

Alan Vivian, clarinet; Susanne Powell, piano
Recorded at Llewellyn Hall, Canberra, ACT, Australia, August 1998
REVOLVE AJM1314 [66:12]


Alan Vivian is one of the most brilliant young clarinettists around at present. Though Australian by birth (and this is an Australian issue), he has an established name in Europe too, having guested as Principal Clarinet with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London and the Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera. He is well-known as a recitalist and concerto soloist, and has a growing discography, not only with Revolve, but with Sony and EMI amongst others. All of which goes a long way towards explaining the brilliant technique and musicianship on display here. Several of these pieces offer daunting challenges to the soloist, but you wouldn’t guess that from the exuberant élan with which Vivian throws them off.

Some might find his tone a little bright, even hard. It is certainly a long way from the mellow Brymer type of sound. Yet the brilliance inside Vivian’s sound suits the repertoire he presents here down to the ground, for much of it is jazz-inspired, as you would expect from the likes of Dankworth, Bernstein and Previn. And Vivian can play with a sweetly drawn beauty of tone when the music calls for it.

The Dankworth Suite for Emma was composed for Emma Johnson, another outstanding clarinettist of the younger generation, whom many will still recall as BBC Young Musician of the Year back in 1984. This is a delightful piece, beginning with a Valse that reminds us how great is the affinity between the sound and range of the clarinet with the voice of Dankworth’s wife Cleo Laine, as suggested in Colin Fox’s excellent booklet notes.

At the start of the Bernstein Sonata, written in the early 1940s when the composer was fresh out of Harvard, I was taken with the echoes of Hindemith. It does take a little while for Bernstein’s characteristic voice to come through, as it does unmistakably in the final Vivace. But this is an enjoyable, convincing piece which is well worth its place in this collection. Jazz or popular music influences are less close to the surface in Benjamin’s Tombeau de Ravel (Tribute to Ravel). But the theme of rhythmic inventiveness and unpredictability continues in this well-rounded single movement work.

Some might feel that the Rachmaninov Vocalise is out of place here. It is a true ‘pop classic’, and, though originally intended for wordless soprano voice, it has been transcribed, with greater or lesser success, for just about every instrument under the sun (I'm working on the Shakuhachi version at this very moment). But its calmness and extended line acts as a very good foil to the sinewy, restless music to be found on many of these tracks. And it seems to me to suit the clarinet quite perfectly, reminding one of the many lovely solos for the instrument in the concertos and symphonies of the Russian composer.

Robert Muczynski, who was based at the University of Arizona in Tucson for many years, is represented by his excellent Time Pieces, of which there are four, adding up in effect to a short sonata. The style is often gritty but by no means hard on the ear, and the writing for the instrument is splendidly sympathetic. For me, the most attractive movement is the third, Allegro moderato, which begins with a butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-the-mouth melody that alternates with more vigorous, aggressive music. The fourth piece is the longest, beginning with an introduction for unaccompanied clarinet, the piano joining once more for the concluding Allegro energico.

André Previn’s lightly bluesy ‘encore’ make a delightful conclusion to the programme. Susan Powell accompanies superbly well throughout, never a mere supporter, always an involved protagonist. This is a most distinguished disc, beautifully planned and executed, and the recording is ideal.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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