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Christopher BALL (b. 1936)
Clarinet Concerto (2006) [24:20]
Four Dances for wind trio [10:35]
Flute Concerto (2006) [23:44]
Irish Suite [11:38]
Leslie Craven (clarinet)
Adam Walker (flute)
Paul Arden-Taylor (oboe)
Emerald Concert Orchestra/Christopher Ball
rec. 27-28 July 2006, All Saints Church, Weston-super-Mare. DDD
QUANTUM QM7040 [70:15]

Christopher Ball, himself a clarinettist who played in the ranks of the Hallé, wrote his Clarinet Concerto specially for Leslie Craven, Principal Clarinet of the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera. Fittingly Mr Craven, the dedicatee who premiered the work, is also the soloist here. The idiom is melodic and completely approachable. The outer movements have orchestra and solo darting and gambolling allowing time for poetic asides. There is nothing as gauchely explosive or as despairing as the Nielsen. The parallels are rather with the more animated segments of the Finzi Concerto especially in the outer movements. In the finale Ball casts admiring glances towards a world mellifluously torn between neo-classical Holst and Mozart. The central movement is more reflective with its theme a close cousin to the Londonderry Air which Ball arranges for ardently throbbing full string orchestra as the third movement of his Irish Suite. This is all very tuneful music and if he feels any pull towards dissonance the composer resists it with complete assurance. Ball stays true to the vision that as an eleven year old drew him back time and again to the clarinet solo introduction to Butterworth’s Bank of Green Willow.
The characterful Four Dances for wind trio were written as an affable and swaggeringly cheery companion to Malcolm Arnold's Divertimento  which uses the same combination of flute, oboe and clarinet. Like all the other pieces it is superbly recorded by Paul Arden-Taylor, a very familiar and well respected name, who here puts in an appearance playing the oboe. The venue in Weston-super-Mare should become a popular hire fixture; it has a most agreeably rich yet cleanly focused sound.
The painting The Idyll by Lord Leighton (1830-1896) inspired the slow movement of the Flute Concerto and it graces the cover of the booklet. Adam Walker, the dedicatee, was a finalist at the age of sixteen in the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, performing Nielsen's flute concerto. The ravishing sound of the flute in the Ball concerto is ripe and sultry. It is completely consonant with the warm and doe-eyed smile of summer that suffuses this score yet with the occasional hint of a bluesy sway. A more spring-like impulse animates the Rondo finale – again with a faintly neo-classical tinge. The Clarinet Concerto orchestra is for strings only while the Flute Concerto sports a full orchestra. 
Christopher Ball’s Irish Suite springs from two Irish pieces originally written for clarinet and piano and which he then arranged for orchestra for the BBC. The four movements bow the knee to sentimentality yet keep their dignity and show a clean pair of heels in the second movement and in the Arnoldian finale.
Mr Ball, no plagiarist, traces his singing lineage back to Butterworth and Finzi. I am sure we will hear more from him; I hope so. If you cannot wait – and don’t be surprised if you hear this CD on Classic FM – another CD of his music has been around since 2003, this time from Pavane.
Rob Barnett

see also review by Hubert Culot

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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