When I reviewed Volume
in this series of British Clarinet Sonatas
I said that
it felt good to see so many British composers gaining exposure in numbers
that British music enthusiasts could only have dreamt of a couple of
decade ago. Following quickly on the heels of that disc is Volume 2
with soloist Michael Collins joined once again by pianist Michael McHale.
Collins continues the tradition of outstanding clarinet playing in Britain
as maintained by Frederick Thurston, Gervase de Peyer, Thea King and
Emma Johnson not forgetting Mark Simpson, the 2006 winner of the BBC
Young Musician of the Year.
Today the popularity of Malcolm Arnold’s music is burgeoning although
many influential figures in the music world still doubt the quality
of his scores. I have had that viewpoint expressed directly to me. The
relative neglect of Arnold’s music is nothing new. He fought long
and hard to obtain the recognition that his music deserves. Arnold’s
was one of three wind Sonatinas
friends in a flurry of activity during 1948-51. Lasting just under eight
minutes this three movement score, probably my favourite here, immediately
feels typical of the composer. There’s that rhythmic and playful
vibrancy complete with an often tongue-in-cheek manner. I especially
enjoyed the affectionately tender central movement Andantino
, marked Furioso
, feels like a fast and frantic
helter-skelter at a fun-fair.
Arnold Cooke studied with Hindemith in Berlin. The more I hear his music
the more impressed I become. For those who don’t know Cooke’s
music I would suggest hearing his Symphony No.3
Lyrita SRCD295. Cooke’s Sonata
is a substantial score commissioned
by the Hampton Music Club in London for Thea King. She introduced the
score in 1959. It’s the longest work on the disc and is cast in
four contrasting movements. Opening with darkly rich, pastoral writing,
the Allegro moderato
follows a vibrant, rhythmic, jumping and
. Next a rather serious and melancholic Adagio
precedes the Finale
with its vibrantly energising tarantella
Edward Gregson has written steadily and throughout his life. In 1994
there was a clarinet concerto that Michael Collins premièred.
Completed in 2010 Tributes
is a suite for clarinet and piano.
It was assembled by Gregson over a couple of decades and in 2008 was
extensively revised and extended. As the name suggests the five pieces
pay tribute to twentieth-century composers who wrote impressively for
the clarinet. Each piece is dedicated to a clarinettist that Gregson
has worked with. Tributes
commences with a skittish and jaunty
first pieceTo Francis Poulenc
, passionate and tender. The second
piece To Gerald Finzi
is imbued with pastoral quality. The rhythmic
and brisk To Igor Stravinsky
is frequently unsettlingly frenetic.
Featuring a percussive piano part To Olivier Messiaen
a long lyrical clarinet line of a meditative quality. The concluding
To Béla Bartók
is notable for its tempestuous
forward momentum and those dotted rhythms lend significant appeal.
Arthur Benjamin, although born in Australia, studied under Stanford
at the Royal College of Music in London where he went on to become a
teacher. Remembered primarily today for his celebrated but very short
hit score Jamaican Rumba
Benjamin used folk tunes that he had
heard during a working tour of the West Indies. From around 1949 Le
Tombeau de Ravel
is a set of six Valses-Caprices
for Frederick Thurston. It was reworked for viola and piano and later
underwent some rewriting by Gervase de Peyer. A later adaptation was
made by Thea King. The score comprises a series of contrasting miniatures
and pays homage to Maurice Ravel’s masterwork Le Tombeau de
. Although played continuously it would have been preferable
if the various sections had been indexed in the booklet. Initially I
felt a slight suggestion of melancholy and reflection amid all the activity.
Next there is a sense of floating as if on thermal like a bird. An impression
of indecision is followed by a passage of robust energy. The score concludes
in a highly determined but non-raucous manner. Despite repeated plays
the Benjamin, although well crafted, fails to leave much of an impression.
The final work here comes from the pen of Joseph Horovitz a Viennese-born
émigré to England who studied with both Gordon Jacob at
the RCM and Nadia Boulanger in Paris. The Sonatina
Gervase de Peyer was completed in 1981 and is cast in three fairly short
but distinctly contrasted movements. The appealing opening movement
has a dreamy rather meditative quality with a sense of weightlessness.
This is followed by a moody and tender slow movement. With suggestions
of the Caribbean the melodic final movement is vibrant with a good-to-be-alive
Collins and McHale have a special affinity for these attractive British
chamber music scores. Collins’ exquisite playing is crisp and
evinces sure articulation, refined phrasing and agreeable intonation.
McHale is sensitive and supportive. Both players radiate pleasurable
music-making. On the audio side, be assured that the engineers have
surpassed themselves with glorious sonics.