Jacob's melodic music remained so over his
long life regardless of transient norms and critical fashion.
The music is succinct; never prolix or windy. It is always to
the point leaving you wanting more rather than saturating you
in an idea.
Like Bliss (who also wrote a clarinet quintet)
Gordon Jacob lost his brother (Anstey) in the Great War. Like
Arthur Benjamin, Jacob was made a prisoner of war. Jacob's First
Symphony is as much a Great War symphony as Bliss's Morning
The little Concertino is freely arranged
from two Tartini sonatas alive with Bachian vitality and Handelian
calm. The first movement is flashingly active followed by an
adagio and an allegro risoluto both of which are
The Five Pieces for solo clarinet feature
a searching Preamble, a highly probing and poignantly
Finzian Waltz, a Fantasy in which homage to Bach
is unmistakable, a Soliloquy that could easily jostle
with RVW's wonderful and little known Three Vocalises for
soprano and clarinet and a flightily jazzy scherzo and trio.
English song is well recognised and perhaps
well understood as a genre. Voice and piano is the most common
combination; voice and another single instrument far less so.
There are a few obvious examples including Vaughan Williams'
masterly Housman cycle Along the field (tenor and violin)
recorded by Gordon Pullen and the chaste ice and fire of Holst's
Four Medieval Songs (for soprano and violin) once broadcast
by the BBC in the early 1970s luminously sung by Felicity Palmer.
Jacob's Three Songs are in the mainstream. Of
all the birds that I do know cross refers to the 'Philip
Sparrow' section of RVW's Tudor Portraits. This sounds
tough on the voice but Beasom is much more kindly treated in
Flow my tears which has a When I am laid in earth
gravity. Try this wonderful song which is extremely well sustained
by Beasom. The final song, Who comes here, is
light-hearted and brimming with new-minted joy. The words of
all three songs are printed in full in the booklet.
The four movement Clarinet Quintet is
a work of melodic weave denser than any of the other works on
this disc. Seek out, at 4.39 in track 13, one of a number of
notably haunted incidents and a beautiful coup which has the
clarinet singing above tremolando at tr 13 (5.10). The scherzo
uses an insistent little ostinato which is a brother (well,
perhaps half-brother) to the 'galloper' cell in Sibelius's Nightride
and Sunrise. The Rhapsody affirms Jacob's Fenland
roots. The finale is in tripartite form: Introduction, Theme
and Variations. This has a rigid academic effect at first
but soon casts this off for a walking theme accompanied by a
pizzicato ostinato. The theme is knocked about among the soloists:
Jacob treats all five players as equals. This admirable work
has more than its share of moments when the composer stills
the heartbeat and holds the passage of time in the cup of his
hands. I believe that there is another recording on Meridian
which I confess to not having heard.
The PROdigital sound has a very strong profile.
If the disc has a drawback it is that it is so intimately balanced
that you can hear Geeting's clicking key action which is distracting
The list of dedicatees reads like a mini-honour
roll of the finest British clarinetists: Frederick Thurston
for the Quintet, Georgina Dobree (you may well recall her LPs
of the Coleridge Taylor Quintet and Stanford Sonata) for the
Five Pieces and Alan Frank (later of OUP) for the songs.
I detect a labour of love here and thankfully
it shows in the playing which is always engaging and engaged.
This is a lovely disc - utterly idiomatic and
far too easily neglected perhaps because it is from a smallish
label and with US origins. It is well past time that world
listeners and especially those in the UK opened their arms to
non-British interpreters of British music.