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Nick HAYES  (b. 1963)
Roger REDGATE (b. 1958)
Timothy SALTER
Mondrian Pictures
Michael PARSONS (b. 1938)
Two Macedonian Songs
Diana BURRELL (b. 1948)
Double Image
Chris SANSOM (b. 1950)
Music from the Heart of a Dog
Gabriel JACKSON (b. 1962)
The White Bird
Howard SKEMPTON (b. 1947)
Air Melody
Kettle’s Yard Canon
Michael FINNISSY (b. 1946)
Laurence CRANE (b. 1961)
Andrew Sparling (clarinet); Chris Brannick (percussion); Thalia Myers (piano); Nancy Ruffer (flute); Alan Thomas (guitar); Double Image
Uzundara (Finnissy) and Sparling (Crane) were recorded on 27th January 2003 at Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Herts. Kettle’s Yard Canon (Skempton) and +R (Redgate) were recorded at the same venue on 10th April 2003. The White Bird (Jackson) and Mondrian Pictures (Salter) were recorded at the Church of St. John the Baptist, Loughton, Essex on 23rd June 2003. Double Image (Burrell), Air Melody (Skempton) and Tongue-Dog (Hayes) were recorded on 11th December 2003 at Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead; Music from the Heart of a Dog (Sansom) was recorded on 3rd February 2004 at Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Herts. Two Macedonian Songs (Parsons) were recorded on 24th June 2004 at St. Mary’s Church, Walthamstow. DDD


In recent years Andrew Sparling has forged a reputation as one of the most energetic clarinettists of his generation. His orchestral credits include The Philharmonia and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra although it is for his work in the field of new music that he is best known. A regular member of the ensembles Lontano, Apartment House and Ensemble Exposé he can also often be seen as guest performer with the London Sinfonietta, Gemini, Ixion and Music Projects/London. Solo projects have seen him involved in concerts and festivals around the country and on the continent. He is also actively involved in music education both in schools and universities.

This NMC project was recorded in tandem with another release on the Metier label entitled new work. In both cases the composers represented have enjoyed a close working relationship with Sparling, the Metier disc concentrating on works for solo clarinet whilst the NMC recording introduces the ensemble Double Image together with colleagues including flautist Nancy Ruffer and pianist Thalia Myers. The latter will be known to followers of the NMC label through her excellent work on the educational project Spectrum. This was pioneered in conjunction with the Associated Board and has introduced new piano music to a whole range of young and amateur pianists.

The stylistic compass of the composers represented on this NMC recording is wide, from the ultra simplicity of Howard Skempton to the cutting-edge ultra complexity of Roger Redgate. The conductor of Ensemble Exposé and a former Brian Ferneyhough pupil, Redgate’s +R is an astonishingly virtuosic study for solo B flat clarinet constructed around the transformation of two contrasting strands of musical material. Sparling responds to the extreme technical demands of the music with playing of incredible facility. Along similar lines Michael Finnissy’s solo B flat clarinet piece Uzundara takes its inspiration from traditional Azerbaijani music and once again pushes technique to the limits, exploiting in particular the extreme upper register of the instrument. Nick HayesTongue-Dog is a jazzy study in syncopation for bass clarinet, cello and piano that makes a particularly effective opening number. Timothy Salter’s Mondrian Pictures occupies more conservative territory than the Redgate and Finnissy whilst retaining a clear contemporary language. The work comprises three contrasting responses to Mondrian paintings that span thirty-one years of the artist’s creative life and attempts to recreate in music the stylistic changes inherent in the paintings. Alongside Howard Skempton, Michael Parsons was a co-founder of The Scratch Orchestra in 1969 and worked closely with Cornelius Cardew in the field of experimental music. His Two Macedonian Songs, Kucinata and Nani Mi Marice are scored for bass clarinet and clarinet in C respectively, both accompanied by percussion and drawn from a collection of music from Southern Greece. Diana Burrell’s impressive ensemble piece Double Image is cast in two movements and scored for flute, B flat clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Although the composer describes each movement as “of itself” the second takes up a number of ideas laid down in the first in an imaginative and convincing ten-minute work. Chris Sansom’s Music from the Heart of a Dog is the only piece that utilises electronic media; in this case a tape of pre-recorded sounds (both human and otherwise) that accompany solo bass clarinet. The result comes across as somewhat quirky if not without the occasional ear-catching sound. More memorable is Gabriel Jackson’s The White Bird. Cast in twelve short continuous sections the piece is a tribute to the pioneering French pilots Charles Nungesser and François Coli whose apparent failure to cross the Atlantic for the first time by air in 1927 has recently been cast in doubt by the discovery of wreckage in a forest in Maine suggesting success prior to their untimely deaths. Jackson’s language is broadly traditional and makes effective use of the E flat clarinet with piano accompaniment, alternating sections of relative calm with flightier, fresh material often higher in the instrument’s register. The title of Laurence Crane’s Sparling may initially imply something celebratory. What transpires however is a sparing, contemplative piece for B flat clarinet and guitar akin to the simplicity of Skempton, that sets two long and constantly repeated clarinet notes against a slowly changing backdrop of spread guitar chords.

It’s a surprisingly subdued conclusion to a disc that offers much worth exploring and forms a useful showcase for Andrew Sparling’s considerable talent.

Christopher Thomas  


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