Arnold (1921-) - Clarinet Concerto No. 2
in Ireland, 1974. The telephone rings. A voice says, “Malcolm? Benny Goodman
here.” Malcolm Arnold shouts, “Sod off!” and hangs up. Hardly an
auspicious beginning to the story of the Second Clarinet Concerto,
but understandable if you've ever been plagued by joke callers. Happy ending?
Oh, yes. Having left the score in a hotel room, between a bouquet and a
litre of Jack Daniels, Arnold got another call: “Malcolm, this is
Benny. I may be a bit stoned, but I think your concerto is just great!”
chap, that Benny Goodman. He thus joined an illustrious line-up that included
Frederick Thurston, Leon Goossens, Richard Adeney, Dennis Brain, and John
Wallace. In his succession of superbly inventive concertos, written mostly
for friends and often out of pure friendship, Arnold is consistently considerate
of the qualities of his intended players. In this one the writing
requires, according to Hugo Cole, “sharp attack, piercing urgency in upper
registers, with a more neutral middle register”. Sounds like Goodman to
me! Even his age (then 60) is taken into account: the soloist is not over-taxed,
with frequent rests provided.
Allegro vivace: The keynote is “jazz”. A busy first subject bristles
with cycles of notes and vertiginous leaps (and plunges!), while an improvisatory
second meanders soulfully. Formal development is curtailed, the music tailing
off into a cadenza where the soloist is instructed to improvise “as jazzy
as you please, based on the concerto’s themes” (so what you hear rather
depends on who's playing it). Thence to an abbreviated recapitulation and
a resounding finish.
Lento: In spite of a classic Arnold tune of disarming wistfulness,
this is no cosy interlude: the tune is progressively “deconstructed”, wistfulness
gradually crumbling into a woeful pit (this might have “graced” some horror
film). The only way out is up, but the path is hard. Following a unison
orchestral climax, a solicitous solo flute resuscitates the care-worn tune.
It strains free from a stifling atmosphere of ethereal strings and woodwind
and, achingly sad, is finally consoled by orchestral warmth.
Allegro non troppo: (“Pre-Goodman Rag”). After “the pits”, the party!
Hair is let down in a big way for this brilliant romp. In the context,
the central tune comes across rather like the “Sally Army” in a city-centre
pub at ten o' clock on a Saturday night. Needless to say, it is soon engulfed
by the good-natured mayhem!
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
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