The earliest piece in this recital is Birtwistle’s
Verses for Clarinet and Piano of 1965. This is early Birtwistle
with much epigrammatic writing and a piece in which performers often
exchange roles. It proved much more accessible than I first thought.
On the whole, this is an engaging miniature with much idiomatic writing
for the clarinet.
Richard Rodney Bennett’s Scena III (1977)
is a kaleidoscopic study of somewhat improvisatory nature alternating
quieter and more agitated episodes exploiting the full expressive range
of the clarinet in much the same way as in Gordon Crosse’s A Year
and a Day (1979).
Elizabeth Maconchy composed her Fantasia for
Clarinet and Piano in 1979. It is of course a more traditional
piece, though one with much invention and with more searching harmonies,
the latter a characteristic of her later music.
Hugh Wood composed three song sets on words by Robert
Graves (Set 1 Op.18 [1966/7], Set 2 Op.22
[1977/82] and Set 3 Op.25 [1966/83]). The last song of
the third set A Bird of Paradise provides the basic material
for his Paraphrase Op.26 completed in 1985. This is a
fantasy in variation form. The sober, restrained ending is particularly
moving. This is a beautiful piece that should be heard more often.
The younger composers also found many different interesting
ways to deal with the clarinet. Anthony Powers’ Sea/Air
for solo clarinet is also much of an improvisation that "demands
much dexterity in the turbulent and fast-moving passages and restrained
control in the contrasting calm and tranquillity" (Kate Romano).
In High Citadels (1994), Piers Hellawell sometimes relies
on what sounds like a prepared piano or, at least, on some playing inside
the piano which modifies the perspective of the traditional clarinet
and piano duo. The three short sections are highly contrasted and provide
for a wholly satisfying piece well worth hearing. Martin Butler’s Capistrano
Song (1984) is for clarinet and pre-recorded tape. It proves
to be a most engaging miniature. The last item may be somewhat better
known since it was recorded a few years ago by Emma Johnson. Flighting
(1987) by Michael Berkeley is an improvisation based on the song Père
du doux repos composed at about the same time. Its consolatory tone
provides for a moving conclusion to this superb recital.
Kate Romano, who also wrote the excellent insert notes,
is a wonderfully equipped musician whose flawless technique and consummate
musicianship are evident throughout this well-thought out survey of
the variety achieved by very different composers when dealing with the
clarinet. Alan Hicks is a superb partner. Recommended.