of these performances were recorded almost twenty years
ago, and issued on an LP (LP S731) by Crystal Records. As
the booklet notes to this CD, by Larry Combs himself explain,
Miklós Rózsa heard the recording of his Clarinet Sonatina
and wrote to the clarinettist observing “Your tone is beautiful,
the tempi are correct and the interpretation convincing”.
Later, he also sent to Combs a copy of his newly completed
Sonata for solo clarinet. Combs gave the premičre of the
Sonata and, on this CD, we have the first recording of it.
admirable film music still tends to attract more attention
than – and perhaps to distract attention from - his ‘classical’
compositions. The more one hears of those compositions,
the more unfortunate it seems that this should be so. His
more classical compositions are never less than well crafted
and intelligent, sometimes much more.
Combs’s booklet notes give a date of 1957 for Rózsa’s Sonatina,
but it is more commonly listed as being written in 1951.
Its two movements demand supreme control of the instrument,
and find it in Combs’s performance. The first of its two
movements is made up of a simple theme, slightly reminiscent
of Rózsa’s Hungarian roots in its more or less modal nature,
and seven variations, richly contrasted and given a bravura
performance here. The second movement is marked vivo
e giocoso; again Larry Combs is utterly persuasive and
engaging, the rhythmic variety thoroughly assured. The later
Sonata is in three movements, at its heart a serene andante
semplice, in which Combs exploits the full tonal range of
his instrument and does justice to the exquisite beauty
of some of Rózsa’s writing. The outer movements are perhaps
less memorable, but still make excellent listening, with
their lively syncopations.
18 November 2005
saw the eightieth birthday of Gunther Schuller. I saw hardly
any mention of this in the UK. I hope a good deal more fuss was made in his native
USA, for Schuller’s has been a major contribution to modern
music, as composer, in the fields of both ‘classical’ and
jazz traditions, as a writer, particularly of some of the
very best serious books on jazz, and as a practising musician.
His main instrument was the horn – whether as soloist in
the premičre of his own Horn Concerto, conducted by Goossens,
at the age of 19, or playing on the epochal Miles Davis
recordings, The Birth of the Cool, around 1950. Unsurprisingly
the writing for horn is particularly effective in his Romantic
Sonata for Clarinet, Horn and Piano, originally written
in 1941 (at the age of sixteen) and revised in 1983. It
evidences, like so much of Schuller’s work, his impressive
fertility of mind and his individual ear for instrumental
combinations. Combs’s own experience in the jazz world makes
him a particularly good interpreter of some of the passages.
In three movements, the Sonata’s opening adagietto is full
of ideas and the range of rhythmic, melodic and tonal effects
is characteristically abundant. The central adagio gives
attractive melodies to both the clarinet (exploiting the
upper register) and the horn, while the closing vivace juxtaposes
vigour and sweetness. An interesting and rewarding piece,
well played by Combs and his colleagues.
booklet notes tell us that George Rochberg’s Trio for Clarinet,
Horn, and Piano “was written, the composer thinks about
1947, or perhaps earlier. It was revised some 33 years later,
in 1980. There were no significant changes in the revision,
according to Rochberg; he ‘just edited’ the score from the
vantage ground that one is able to look at an earlier work
with greater clarity”. In three movements, the Trio seems
sometimes to try to get more out of its materials than they
will comfortably yield and there is a consequent sense of
strain at times. The writing for horn – well handled by
Gail Williams – produces some of the most striking moments,
particularly in the second movement. The different resources
of the two wind instruments are used interestingly in the
dance-like rhythms of the third movement.
Combs is a highly accomplished musician whose instrumental
control and musical insight are never in doubt. He is also
responsible for the exemplary booklet notes. Gail Williams
and Mary Ann Covert work well with Combs in the two trio
pieces, and the whole is a valuable and largely enjoyable
(I have some reservations about the Rochberg) programme
of American chamber music focused on the clarinet.