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British Clarinet Music
Charles Harford LLOYD (1859-1919) Suite in the Old Style (1914) [9.48]
Charles Villers STANFORD (1852-1924) 3 Intermezzi Op. 13 (1879) [8.03]; Sonata in F major Op. 129 (1911) [18.25]
William Yeates HURLSTONE (1876-1906) 4 Characteristic Pieces (1901) [14.34]
Cecil ARMSTRONG GIBBS (1889-1960) 3 Pieces (1957) [7.56]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) 5 Bagatelles Op. 23 (1943) [13.49]
Alessandro Travaglini (clarinet); Christopher Howell (piano)
rec. Studio “L’Etremo”, Lessona, Italy, 21 February, 25 May 2009
SHEVA 021 [75.59]
Experience Classicsonline

This is not the first disc to concentrate on British clarinet music from the late Victorian period up until the mid-twentieth century. This was something of a golden period which, as Christopher Howell says in his booklet notes, was marked by a distinguished series of player/teachers from Henry Lazarus (1815-1895), Charles Draper (1869-1952) through to Jack Brymer (1915-2003), Reginald Kell (1905-1981), Thea King (1925-2007) and more recently Emma Johnson.

This generously filled disc opens with a neo-baroque suite by a rare figure, C.H. Lloyd who was organist of the Chapel Royal until his death. This is neo-baroque in style and in five short movements including an Allemande and ending in a Gigue. It’s attractive but unremarkable. The kind of thing that could easily pop up in a performer’s grade exam.

Talking of things didactic we come next to the Three Intermezzi also often played by young musicians. It is an early piece by Stanford who wrote several works for the clarinet and who was also a church musician. These show a Brahmsian influence which is often commented on. There’s even a sort of Hungarian feel to the third Intermezzo marked Allegretto Scherzando. The Sonata is a mature work dating from over thirty years later; it must have appeared quite anachronistic in 1911 the year of ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’. It is a nostalgic piece very well captured by Travagalini and Howell. The nostalgia is for the composer’s native Ireland - so Howell tells us in his interesting essay. The second movement is in the form of a ‘Caoine’ - an Irish Lament.

Talking of being stylistically anachronistic (if it matters) Armstrong Gibbs in 1957 writing his ‘Three Pieces’ falls into that same category. Especially attractive here is the middle movement marked ‘Air’ but it’s more like a Tarantella! The performers obviously enjoy this music but it makes only moderate demands on all concerned.

The best piece on the CD is by Stanford’s tragically short-lived but talented pupil William Hurlstone. The ‘Four Characteristic Pieces’ are original and individual in style. As ever with this composer, whose music is practically all now available on disc, one feels desperately the loss of such a fascinating musical voice at such a tender age. The opening Ballade has touches of modality in its main melody. The third movement, an Intermezzo, has a touch of Elgarian light-heartedness about it. It is all rounded off with a lively Scherzo. This is quite challenging music but Travaglini and Howell rise to it very successfully.

The disc ends with Finzi’s well known and typically English-Pastoral ‘Five Bagatelles’. This is an unremarkable performance marred by a very poor edit between the second and third movements. Speaking of which I must add that although Travaglini and Howell form a real partnership, showing understanding and sensitivity to each other, I do not care for certain aspects of Travaglini’s tone quality especially when he is firmly articulating a forte phrase in the chalumeau register. In addition I have to comment on Sheva’s unacceptable standard of presentation. As well as the poor edit mentioned, the recording is unflattering and boxy. It’s very studio-bound with sometimes a worrying balance and sound quality for the clarinet. The font size chosen for the booklet essay and biographies is minuscule despite the fact that there is some spare space on one of the pages. None of these things have helped endear this disc to me. Despite the pleasing repertoire, I cannot, hand on heart, recommend it.

Gary Higginson 

John France had a better impression of this CD



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