Aureole etc.

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



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Five English Clarinet Quintets
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)

Rhapsodic Quintet op.31 (1917) [10'51]
Arnold COOKE (b.1906))

Clarinet Quintet (1962): Allegro [5'54]; Andante [7'36]; Rondo: Allegro vivace [3'50]
Elizabeth MACONCHY (1907-1994)

Clarinet Quintet (1963): Poco lento [3'25]; Scherzo: Presto [3'03]; Lento [3'24]; Allegro molto [3'02]
Benjamin FRANKEL (1906-1973)

Clarinet Quintet op.28 (1956): Moderato [5'45]; Alla Burla [4'43]; Lento di molto [9'36]
Joseph HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)

Eilean Shona [3'50]
Thea King (clarinet)
Britten String Quartet: (Peter Manning (violin); Keith Pascoe (violin); Peter Lale (viola); Andrew Shulman (cello))
Rec: 22-25 April 1990, DDD
Previously at full price on CDA66428

The Howells work is pastoral-ecstatic to the point of voluptuous. The green of fields, the blue of sky - each has an emotional intensity which defines this particular idle hill of youthful summer. This is after all the work of a 25 year old and written during the Great War. It dates from the year after the superb Piano Quartet and from the same year as the Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra - the latter written in memory of Francis Purcell Warren killed in the war. That elegiac vein dominates in the hushed magic of the second half of this brief work. The Cooke, on the other hand, might almost be from another universe, separated from the Howells by two world wars and written in the midst of the massive social revolution of the 1960s. The year previously, Cooke had completed his ballet Jabez and the Devil and the second and third symphonies were not far distant. The Quintet is restrained, lively; terse, alive to the melody inherent in the instrument but always in tight control. If you find the Howells too effusive then this work of a Hindemith pupil should suit. Unlike the single movement Howells it is in three movements. In the vital finale Thea King ‘paints’ the clarinet’s line in bright lights. The Maconchy is laid out in four movements but is shorter in total than the Cooke. Maconchy is no pastoralist but she is more open to emotion than Cooke. In the timeline her Quintet is flanked by two of her orchestral works: the 1963 Serenata Concertante for violin and orchestra (recorded by Lyrita but never made it to CD) and the 1965 Variazioni Concertante for orchestra. (not recorded but certainly broadcast by the BBC, notably as conducted by Raymond Leppard). As the late Christopher Palmer implies in his notes, this piece sounds more mainland Continental than British - more Bartók than Housman. It is vigorous, bracing, lightly dissonant but no more than you will already have embraced if you count the later Bartók string quartets among ‘your’ repertoire. The Frankel Quintet was written in 1956 for Thea King in memory of her late husband - Frederick Thurston, doyen of players. Thurston was in turn a pupil of Charles Draper for whom Stanford wrote his clarinet concerto. The clarinet was an instrument completely apt to Frankel’s gift for Bergian lyricism. Once again this is not the lyricism of the English idyll, real or imagined, but instead of psychology. It is highly emotional as is much of Frankel’s music (e.g. the Symphonies 4, 7 and violin concerto) but the language is freely dissonant. This is a lovely performance accentuated by the Hyperion’s egalitarian balance which places Thea King in not too eminent a position.

Essentially this is a recital of three British clarinet quintets of the fifties and sixties when the world had become old. These are flanked by the Howells work from a young world in process of losing innocence and Holbrooke’s work of Celtic witchery and nostalgia. Eilean Shona was the island hideaway of the composer’s patron, Lord Howard de Walden. Holbrooke holidayed there with him in the teens of the century. Later he was to give up the island eyrie and move nomad-like between London, Chirk Castle, Harlech, Africa, America and the Mediterranean.

What of the competition? There have been several recordings of the Howells (coupled with other Howells chamber pieces) including on Metier and an old Lyrita LP (c. 1975) and one of Eilean Shona as part of an all-Holbrooke Dutton Epoch disc. The Frankel has been recorded as part of a Frankel chamber compilation. Thea King’s playing has special authority so its claims to your attention are high. Some of you may prefer a more dominant recording placement for the clarinet. For me however the balance struck by Hyperion is natural and much closer to a concert hall sound than many star recordings. The disc is now at bargain price.

Rob Barnett

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