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Sarah Beth Briggs
through MusicWeb for £11.00 postage
British Clarinet Music
Charles Harford LLOYD
(1849-1919) Suite in the Old Style (1914) [9:48]
Charles Villiers STANFORD
(1852-1924) Three Intermezzi Op.13 (1879) [8:03];
Sonata in F major Op.129 (1911) [18:25]
William Yeates HURLSTONE (1874-1906)
Four Characteristic Pieces (1899) [14:34]
Cecil Armstrong GIBBS (1889-1960)
Three Pieces (1957) [07:56]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) Six
Bagatelles Op.23 (1943) [13:49]
(clarinet); Christopher Howell (piano)
rec. 21 February and 25 May 2009, Studio L'Eremo, Lessona, Italy.
SHEVA SH021 [72:25]
This is an important release for all enthusiasts of British
Music. Six major works are presented from five composers who
were all key players in the English Musical Renaissance. Four
of the works will be well known to most listeners who specialise
in clarinet music and the other two are either 'first recordings'
or at least first complete recordings. Typically the
playing on this CD is convincing and technically impressive
and presents these works in the best possible light. The players
are manifestly enthusiastic about this music and communicate
this through performance and interpretation.
A study of the CD catalogues is interesting. Only the Gigue
of Lloyd's Suite has been issued before. In fact, apart
from the composer's church music there appears to be only
one other chamber work currently available - the Trio for Clarinet,
Bassoon and Piano. Stanford fares a little better with two recordings
of the Three Intermezzi and five of the magnificent Sonata.
Hurlstone's Four Characteristic Pieces are well represented
with four editions, but it is Finzi that takes pride of place.
On the Arkiv listings there are some twelve versions of his
well-known Five Bagatelles. Cecil Armstrong Gibbs'
Three Pieces here receive their first recording.
For most cognoscenti, C.H. Lloyd is ever associated with the
organ loft and choir stalls. Yet he was a notable teacher who
included Herbert Brewer and George Butterworth among his pupils.
But he was also a composer, and wrote a considerable amount
of music. Most of it appears to be liturgical, but includes
a number of songs, piano pieces, organ works and a few chamber
works. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the cantata Hero
and Leander which is not currently in the repertoire.
The present Suite in the Old Style is a delightful confection.
This is not pastiche baroque but is a really an Edwardian 'take'
on what music 'should' have been like in 'olden
times'. It is not unfair to suggest that Parry is an exemplar
for this music, but certainly Lloyd brings colour and imagination
to this charming work. The Suite was composed in 1914 and has
five movements: Prelude, Allemande, Minute (q.v.) Sarabande
The two works by Charles Villiers Stanford are well-established
in the repertoire. Certainly the clarinet was an important instrument
for the composer - there was the great Concerto Op.80 (1902)
and the two Fantasies for Clarinet and String Quartet from the
early nineteen-twenties. However the earliest composition for
the instrument was the Three Intermezzi from 1879. The Clarinet
Sonata did not follow until 1911.
The Intermezzi are truly lovely pieces. It is 'conventional'
to suggest that Brahms is 'not far away' and that one
of the exemplars was Schumann and his Romances for Oboe and
Piano. Yet there is a certain magic about these pieces that
must surely be recognised as Stanford's own. Although these
Intermezzi are not 'Irish' in feel, the wit and the
charm of the Dublin-born composer is never far away. They were
composed in 1879 and were first performed at a Cambridge University
Musical Society concert the following year.
The major work on this CD is the great Stanford Clarinet Sonata
Op.129 which was completed in 1911 and was dedicated to Oscar
Street. The opening movement is in Sonata form and certainly
nods toward Brahms in a number of places. Christopher Howell
has written elsewhere that '
opinion has been divided
as to whether the outer movements are merely efficient Brahms
clones or something more.' He suggested that from his point
of view this Sonata never lacked 'emotional engagement or
personality'. I feel that we have to accept that Brahms
was a major influence on Charles Villiers Stanford and live
with it. No-one would choose to criticise a composer who was
influenced by Messiaen or Stravinsky - so why must people have
a go at Stanford? Influences are important - it is what the
composer does with them that matters. My opinion is that the
present Sonata is an important work that reveals Stanford's
personality and deserves to be judged on that basis. The heart
of the work is the beautiful Caoine (Keen) which is an Irish
lament. There is little in the clarinet literature of this or
any country to set against this music. It is deep, moving and
quite simply gorgeous.
There seems to be a little confusion as to the musical status
of William Yeates Hurlstone's Four Characteristic Pieces.
On the one hand it could be argued that they are fundamentally
light music - designed more for the salon rather than the recital
room. However the opening Ballade is robust and complex
in its conception and could not be classified as light in any
sense of the word. It is long-ish piece that explores a wide
range of moods and musical expression. The Croon Song
is perhaps on the cusp of being a popular offering, yet this
is music of considerable depth and has a kind of Celtic mistiness
about it that defies classification. It is with the Intermezzo
that the listener hears a nod to Palm Court. This is attractive
and well wrought music that is emotionally a long way from the
Ballade. The final Scherzo is once again end-of-the-pier
music that is desperately trying to be witty. It never quite
succeeds. Perhaps the problem with these pieces is one of balance?
However, no single piece could really stand on its own: each
is dependent on each other for better or worse.
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs has been a little bit slow in being rediscovered.
Most of the works that have been recorded are songs, although
there is a fine Hyperion
disc of orchestral works, 'Dale & Fell' and the
Marco Polo CD of his First and Third Symphonies which I believe
is available as an MP3 download but not on disc. There's
also his Second Symphony Odysseus on Dutton. One of the
problems in coming to terms with Gibbs is that he has such a
large catalogue of works - there are more than three dozen major
chamber pieces alone and it is difficult to know where to begin
the exploration. The present Three Pieces are worthy of revival.
It would be easy to dismiss Armstrong Gibbs as a composer belonging
to the so-called Pastoral School of composition or at least
someone who was not afraid to write in a largely traditional
style. Yet there is a complexity and depth to much of his music
that goes beyond the stylistic factors normally associated with
this genre. The Three Pieces, although melodic and approachable
have a certain almost acerbic quality that occasionally borders
on sarcasm. The sleeve-notes are absolutely correct in describing
these pieces as 'bitter-sweet.' The three movements
are a lively Shadow March, a more relaxing Air and a
lighter- hearted Caprice with an attractive middle section.
The Five Bagatelles by Gerald Finzi are well-known along
with the impressive Clarinet Concerto both of which are highly
regarded by performers and listeners alike. The Bagatelles
were composed for the clarinettist Pauline Juler. Although they
were completed in 1943 they do not reflect the international
situation, perhaps because they had evolved over many years.
They are largely optimistic in mood and seldom descend into
melancholy although there are one or two moments which darken
the horizon. After an exuberant opening, the Prelude has a relaxed
middle section. The three middle movements are a treat for Finzi
fans. Both the poetic Romance and the trouble-free Carol are
gorgeous miniatures that are in the composer's reflective
style. The latter had its origin in a tune written for Herbert
Howells' children. The Forlana has a touch of the
folk tune about it as it makes its gentle progress. The last
movement is a Fughetta which brings the work to a satisfying
close. Travaglini and Howell capture the balance of this work
and manage to impress upon the listener that although these
pieces are entitled Bagatelles, they are definitely not things
of little value or importance.
There are a couple of criticisms of this CD - for example the
programme notes seem to be a little bit lacking in substance.
The presentation of the liner-notes is poor quality with a less
than inspiring picture of the Malverns? Furthermore, the print
is tiny, and I struggled to read it! Yet this can be all forgiven,
for the playing is convincing and impressive - most especially
the stunningly beautiful Caoine from the Sonata. It is
so important to play this piece well - for it perhaps one of
the greatest of Stanford's Irish-influenced pieces.
review by Nick Barnard
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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