Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Gerald FINZI
Five Bagatelles (1940s) [17.30]
Arnold BAX
Clarinet Sonata (1934) [15.08]
Sonata Capriccioso (1963-64) [9.34]
Charles Villiers STANFORD
Clarinet Sonata (1912) [22.21]
Fantasy-Sonata (1943) [15.04]
John Denman (clarinet)
Paula Fan (piano)
rec 1970s-1990s, GSMD and The Barbican, London

This disc is the market leader on the strengths of its generosity of spirit and timing, its sleek but not steely tone and its breadth of coverage of core British clarinet works.

Denman's recording on Lyrita LP (SRCS92 never reissued on CD) of the Finzi Clarinet Concerto was the only version to be had until Thea King's Hyperion version appeared. Since then there has been a small flood of versions and no wonder. The Bagatelles were not at all rated by Finzi but, then, he was his own ruthless critic and was as wrong to condemn these little gems as he was perhaps right to suppress the outer movements of Violin Concerto recently recorded by Chandos. The soft contoured enchantment of these miniatures contrasts with the rugged edginess of his close friend Howard Ferguson's contemporaneous Five Bagatelles for solo piano. The lullaby rocking of the Forlana is quintessential Finzi but with a franker smile than he found for works like the Cello Concerto.

Bax's waters were a more perilous ocean than Finzi's for if Finzi was a philosopher of the countryside and Englishness, Bax moved most convincingly in the world of rough passion, sagas and Sibelian fantasy. His 1934 Clarinet Sonata is slap bang in the middle of his strongest period. It was the 1930s that yielded up the Fifth and Sixth symphonies. The work is in two sections the first rhapsodic and the second vigorous - taken at a real 'lick' by Denman and Fan. It is a work that rather like the Bowen Flute Sonata on another BML disc. It feels epic and entangled in emotional conflict and exhaustion. Some of the first movement is perhaps too dense with undergrowth.

Eric 'Spike' Hughes studied with Alan Bush and Franz (not Fritz, please - another mark against the proof-reading of the notes which suffer from a splatter of errors) Reizenstein. In the Sonata Capriccioso he sounds like neither. The music gallops along cheekily in the micro-Tarantella - a real wake-up call for the listener. The bipartite second movement follows a lovely andante with a roistering brioso. A work of well-judged length - in this sense and perhaps in a few others this is of a piece with the music of Geoffrey Bush. It was written in 1963/64 for John Denman who recorded it (this time with pianist Hazel Vivienne) for the long defunct Revolution LP label on RCF 009 coupled with the Bax and Stanford Sonatas. Denman is no stranger to this territory.

The well-filled frame of Stanford's opulent Brahmsian Clarinet Sonata was first performed by Charles Draper. Indeed long before Chandos blessed us with the seven symphonies and Del Mar gave us the Irish Symphony on EMI, this sonata kept Stanford's name alive with record collectors - John Bradbury's recording never made it to CD. The Brahmsian voice is clearest from the piano part which repeatedly reminisces around the German master's piano concertos. Brahmsian it is (with plenty of Schumann as well, by the way) but this is no obstacle to its enjoyment. There is no plagiarism here only the use of a language established and firmly rooted. Its sincerity is indubitable.

Issues of homage do not arise in the case of the John Ireland Clarinet Sonata. It is a late work written amidst the darker depths of the Second World War. This sonata has more in common with the rhapsodic tendency than the classical structure. There is more of Bax (whose own sonata predates the Ireland by ten years) in this than of Finzi; indeed this is not a work of any facile pastoral tradition. Ireland was much taken with the hidden England and with the evanescent rustling of Celtic and Roman legend amid the brakes and hillsides. A single 15 minute structure Denman and Fan lead us fluently through the thickets and the old and forgotten songs that sing and vibrate. This is a most poetic and persuasive performance radiantly playing out a desirable disc.

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


Arnold Bax  John Ireland

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