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Christopher BALL (b. 1936)
Concerto for Clarinet and Strings (2006)a [24:20]
Four Dances for Wind Trio (c.1991)b [10:35]
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (2006)c [23:54]
Irish Suite (2006) [11:38]
Leslie Craven (clarinet)ab; Adam Walker (flute)bc; Paul Arden-Taylor (oboe)b;
Emerald Concert Orchestra/Christopher Ball
rec. All Saints’ Church, Weston-upon-Mare, July 2006
QUANTUM QM 7040 [70:25]

Christopher Ball was trained as a clarinettist, so no wonder that he writes beautifully for wind instruments. Indeed, his list of works includes a Recorder Concerto and a Oboe Concerto (once available on Pavane ADW 7404, apparently now deleted but likely to be re-issued on Quantum) as well as a Clarinet Concerto and a Flute Concerto, both recorded here. He also writes most sympathetically and idiomatically for strings, both in his concertos and in other works such as the very fine Adderbury Sketches.

When reviewing earlier recordings, I remarked that Christopher Ball’s music clearly belongs to what has often been referred to as the British Pastoral School, although it is often closer to Finzi than to Vaughan Williams. Although richly melodic, Ball’s music is not without sharper edges and stringency resulting in mildly dissonant harmonic clashes. This may be heard in the Clarinet Concerto and the Flute Concerto, both composed in 2006 and dedicated to the present soloists. Both concertos are laid-out in the fairly traditional mould: moderately fast first movement, song-like slow movement and lively Finale, the slow movements being in both cases the emotional and expressive core of the works.

Although composed after the completion of the Clarinet Concerto, the Flute Concerto revisits material sketched in 1998 but put aside for various personal reasons. Moreover, Lord Leighton’s canvas ‘Idyll’, reproduced on the cover, gave the composer the impulse for the beautifully atmospheric slow movement and for the completion of the concerto. Unlike the Clarinet Concerto, this one is scored for small orchestra including some winds and a harp. To some extent, this attractive work might well be the flute concerto that RVW never composed.

The Four Dances for Wind Trio (flute, oboe and clarinet) were composed as a companion piece to Malcolm Arnold’s Divertimento Op.37 (1952). The music of these short dances speaks for itself. It is well made, colourful and utterly attractive with more than a pinch of gentle irony, much in the same vein as Ball’s Scenes from a Comedy for wind quintet. Happy music-making indeed.

"Some of my favourite folk-tunes come from Ireland", says the composer. Indeed, he has also composed a work for alto flute, cor anglais and strings entitled Celtic Moods. The Irish Suite was assembled for this recording. The first three movements were written at various times. The first versions of The Lark in the Clear Air and The Star of County Down were composed for clarinet and piano as encores, when the composer was in his teens. Orchestral versions were made later for the BBC. At that time, the composer added his own arrangement of the celebrated Londonderry Air. In 2006 he added his light-footed arrangement of Trottin’to the Fair providing an appropriate conclusion to this lovely work.

Both concertos receive impeccable readings. The soloists are impressive, and play with a remarkable tonal variety and much subtle shading. Everyone joins in for a jolly rendering of the delightful Irish Suite. Christopher Ball’s music does not aim at plumbing any unfathomable depths, but this happy, unpretentious music-making is really very attractive. I again urge you to listen to this most enjoyable release, and you will end-up whistling all the tunes.

Hubert Culot

see also review by Rob Barnett





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