Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Romantic Clarinet Sonatas
Donald Francis TOVEY
(1875-1940) Clarinet Sonata (1906)
Daniel Gregory MASON
(1873-1953) Clarinet Sonata (1912-15)
(1884-1959) Clarinet Sonata (1943)
John Denman (clarinet) Paula Fan (piano)
rec, St Silas Church, Kentish Town, London 18-19 July 1986.
Recordings previously issued on cassette as ENS 142 and ENS 144.

This disc partners BML 009 (Splendid British Clarinet Works) also reviewed here. It also forms a Transatlantic 'bridge' linking to two discs on Mike Skeet's Ensemble label: EML004 and EML 008. These two Ensemble discs present Denman (who departed the British scene for a career at Arizona University - seems to be a tendency with clarinettists - Reginald Kell emigrated to the States in the 1940s ) and Fan playing, on the one hand, the two Brahms sonatas and the Schumann Fantasiestücke and, on the other, the sonatas by Hindemith, Bernstein, Muczynski and Castelnuovo-Tedesco. The link is established by the presence on this CD of the clarinet sonata by the American Daniel Gregory Mason.

Mason as educator, writer and composer was a staunch right-wing disciple of Brahms. Taught by Paine at Harvard, he spent time on at least one walking tour (1895) in Europe as was the wont of sophisticated Americans. A year out in Paris studying with d'Indy gave a decidedly French flavour to his Symphony No. 1 (1914), which was premiered by Stokowski in 1916. The Clarinet Sonata on this disc was begun in 1912 but not completed until 1915. In 1920 it was one of the first works to be published by the Society for the Promotion of American Music. His Second Symphony (1929) was conducted by Reiner at Cincinnati and Walter in New York.

Mason's Third Symphony A Lincoln Symphony was premiered under the baton of Barbirolli with the New York Phil in 1937. Lincoln seems, understandably, to have been a prevalent theme when you consider the long list of works bearing his name. Robert Russell Bennett's Lincoln - A Likeness in Symphony Form (1929) is his Second Symphony which was premiered by Stokowski and is recorded on Naxos American Classics (8.559004). Other Lincoln-inspired works include pieces by Copland, Morton Gould, Charles Ives, Roy Harris, Walter Damrosch, Vincent Persichetti and Mason's teacher, John Knowles Paine.

Tovey too was much taken with the music of Brahms and his smoothly liquid Clarinet Sonata proclaims as much if nowhere near as frankly indebted as the sonata by Stanford. The Allegretto is a perfect example of the genre rising from relaxed reflection to a majestic statement at 7.10 and, breaking the accustomed mould, Tovey next pitches at us a quick tempo exciting Allegro Con Spirito bounding forward in ripe-toned waves of sound. This is followed by a successful; rondo finale. The slow-fast-slow pattern echoes the violin concertos of Delius and Moeran.

York Bowen's Flute Sonata -a most approachable piece confounding expectations about lightweight works for the flute - is on another BML disc. The Clarinet Sonata from 1943 was written for Pauline Juler (who was also the dedicatee of the Finzi Five Bagatelles). A late-ish work which has about it an air of summation came within a couple of years of Bowen's wartime masterpiece: the Twenty Four Preludes in all the Major and Minor Keys recorded as a complete sequence of Marie-Catherine Girod on Opès 3D. It is unusual in comprising three allegro movements in sequence - OK the middle one is an Allegretto but still pretty unusual. The sonata was written within six years of his 1937 Fourth Piano Concerto - a work with pronounced leanings towards Rachmaninov's grandiloquence. It is no surprise that the piano part, very stylishly handled by Paula Fan, Denman's wife, carried that same euphorically lugubrious impress.

We hear too little of Denman whose ripe lyricism and flowing cantabile line first asserted itself for most listeners in the Lyrita recording of the Finzi Clarinet Concerto. Mike Skeet's label provides a major cache treasury of recordings of Denman's artistry. It seems that there are also tapes of Denman playing the four Spohr Concertos with the RPO but these, as far as I know, are not currently available in any commercial medium. John Denman's Spohrs were on another UK label and he is now issuing them himself. He and Paula Fan are at Arizona University.

From the point of view of clarinet-inclined Anglophiles Denman and Fan's BML 009 is a better bet. However for those who would like to counterbalance Bowen's high romance with two fruitily Brahmsian sonatas this disc is an excellent choice and, for this coupling, BML 002 happens to be the only game in town.

Rob Barnett

UK is £10 incl UK P&P
abroad, the appropriate extra - Please approach Mr Skeet for quote.

Mike Skeet at F.R.C.
44 Challacombe
Milton Keynes MK4 1DP
phone/fax +44 (0)1908 502836


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