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This Is Clarity
Billy AMSTELL (1914-2005)

Stick o’Liquorice arr. Paul Harvey [2.56]
Raymond DECANCQ (b.1935)

Two Contrasts [5.27]

Clover Fantasy for Clarinet Quartet [9.16]
Heiner WIBERNY (b.1944)

Ulla in Africa (1976) [4.29]
Paul HARVEY (b.1935)

Quartet for Three B flat clarinets and bass clarinet [8.40]

Waltzing Matilda – Historical views for Clarinet Quartet arr. Terry Stirzaker [9.51]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)

Gymnopédie No.1 arr. Canham [2.37]
Yvonne DESPORTES (1907-1993)

Normandie – Suite on Ancient Airs from Normandie [12.02]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)

Milonga del Angel (1965) arr. Canham [4.23]
La Muerte del Angel (1962) arr. Canham [1.56]
William BYRD (1543-1623)

Pavana arr. Skolnik [1.53]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)

Perpetuum Mobile arr. Heau [2.51]
Gershon KINGSLEY (b.1922)

Popcorn arr. Canham [2.34]
Clarity Clarinet Quartet
Recorded at Wesley Music Centre, September-October 2005
MOVE MCD 306 [69.10]

Clarity is an Australian clarinet quartet and the foursome has adventurous ears. The opener is especially poignant as it was recorded very shortly before the death of its composer, London reedman Billy Amstell, whom some will remember from his dance band days and for his amusing autobiography Don’t Fuss, Mr Ambrose. Ninety-one is a grand age and Amstell was an adornment on the musical scene so it’s especially gratifying to hear his Stick o’Liquorice in this arrangement by Paul Harvey. There’s a peppy Palladium feel to it in this version with uncredited percussion work and a bass clarinet acting as a string bass rhythm section. Belgian composer Raymond Decancq contributes Two Contrasts, though the Bartókian title is not relevant. These are warm and feeling pieces, with hints of neo-classicism in the first and a jaunty boulevardier spirit in the second (think of the opening of Honegger’s Cello Concerto and you’re in the right area).

Mari Miura, the Japanese composer, has written an entertaining, impressionist-flecked Francophile, compact five-movement Fantasy. The clarinet sonorities are cleverly deployed here, from driving animation to still and reflective and a Fauré like chanson that sits at the heart of the Twilight Pavane – early Fauré, mind. The wide-ranging geographical conspectus continues with the High Life jazz of Ulla in Africa, Heiner Wiberny’s joyful if brief recollection of an all-Africa tour with the Cologne based WDR Big Band of which he was a member – an alto player to be precise. The WDR is a formidable outfit and Wiberny taps something of Abdullah Ibrahim’s loose Township shuffle very nicely.

Paul Harvey’s Quartet is an affirmative and excellently conceived affair, taking in baroque tints and a jovial scherzo and ending with a Toccata and the Fugue, the last named taking on Alec Templeton in its eyebrow-cocking jazz-isms. Terry Stirzaker’s Waltzing Matilda variations certainly catch the ear. There are more baroque sounding themes here – the clarinet quartet is an ideal arena for summoning up those reedy David Munrow sounds – but also a naughty polka (with slide whistle?) and Debussy. Stirzaker, a man clearly on first name terms with the Good Doctor Humour, ends with lonesome cowpokery. I was greatly taken by Yvonne Desportes’s Normandie Suite with its birdsong and haze. And then there are some encore pieces; Piazzolla (groan), Byrd (excellent sonority) Satie (a bit obvious), Johann Strauss (fizzy) and Gershon Kingsley’s 1972 top twenty hit Popcorn (you’ll recognise it if you heard it; I like Josquin and Rubbra Quartets but even I knew it).

So a pleasurably diverting disc from four venturesome musicians who like some sly fun whilst also relishing more sonorous and sophisticated things. Fine recording values, good notes and an all round spirit of engagement. No po faces here and God knows the scene has its fair share, so instrumentally eloquent performances such as these can be enjoyed guilt-free.

Special commendation to Nicole Canham for her arrangements.

Jonathan Woolf




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