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Clarinet Kaleidoscope – Volume Two
Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)

Scherzetto [2:40]
Aubrey BESWICK

Lonely Voyager [2:19]
Gavin SUTHERLAND (b. 1972)

Air für Zwei [4:36]
Philip LANE (b. 1950)

Divertissement [9:00]
Ernest TOMLINSON (b. 1924)

Little Serenade [3:13]
Matthew CURTIS (b. 1959)

Irish Lullabye [3:14]
David LYON (b. 1938)

Almost a Waltz [2:14]
Michael GRYSPEERDT (1928-2000)

Two Pieces Op. 26 [6:42]
William LLOYD WEBBER (1914-1982)

Frensham Pond [2:14]
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)

Four Short Pieces [5:32]
John FOX (b. 1924)

Six Sketches for Clarinet and Piano [12:48]
Leon YOUNG (1916-1991)

Stranger on the Shore (arr. Gavin Sutherland) [2:45]
Billy AMSTELL (1911-2005)

Stick O’Liquorice [2:40]
Live Bonus Track

Nostalgia Too (medley arr. Gavin Sutherland) [6:00]
Verity Butler (clarinet)
Gavin Sutherland (piano)
rec. January 2007, Prince Michael Hall, Dean Close School, Cheltenham, UK. DDD
CAMPION CAMEO 2058 [66:57]


 


 

This is the second instalment in Campion’s Clarinet Kaleidoscope series, the first of which was reviewed by Rob Barnett back in January 2004. It offers quite an array of light music, most of it in miniature. It really does require the performers to explore and exploit the character of each to the full if one is to differentiate each from what has gone before. Quite a challenge on a 26-track disc and, sadly, one that is not met. There are other caveats too, but more on those later.

The disc gets off to a promising start with Sir Malcolm Arnold’s rumbustious Scherzetto, written for the 1954 film You Know What Sailors Are. It is pure Ealing comedy, yet even when writing slapstick Arnold always exhibits a certain urbanity and wit.

Pianist, composer and conductor Gavin Sutherland’s yearning Air für Zwei, originally for piano and strings, was recast as a birthday present for Verity Butler in 2003. It’s a moody, restless little piece, the piano shadowing the clarinet for much of the time. It’s a highly personal piece the players must know well, so why does it sound under-rehearsed? Butler and Sutherland are credited as the recording producers and one can’t help but wonder whether an essential critical distance is lost when the roles of producer and performer are combined.

That is not to say the performers aren’t up to the task; indeed, Philip Lane’s jaunty little Divertissement makes more demands of the clarinet’s upper register, demands that Butler meets easily enough. A pleasant diversion, this, with a slinky, Joplinesque Valse Americaine and an energetic Tarantelle – Rondeau.

Time now for the more serious reservations. In his review of the duo’s first disc Rob Barnett commented on the ‘stonily resonant tones’ of the piano. There is a similar problem here, and as one progresses through the disc the frankly peculiar piano sound becomes a real bar to enjoyment. The recording is given a very shallow acoustic, with the piano either over-bright in the treble or all but inaudible in the bass. A very strange aural perspective that highlights the clarinet rather more than is comfortable or natural. Even that lacks vibrancy and glow in this unforgiving acoustic.

Eric Tomlinson’s gentle, bucolic Serenade is certainly easier on the ear but Matthew Curtis’s lilting Irish Lullaby falls victim to the airless recording, with a curiously muffled final note on the piano.

The waltz makes a return - well, almost - in David Lyon’s piece, sounding remarkably like a hurdy-gurdy at times. Butler has no trouble articulating the notes but again the piano contribution is disappointing. Ditto the Lloyd Webber, whose appealing swan-like grace calls for rather more elegance than this.

The longer pieces by Gordon Jacob and John Fox - four movements and six respectively - are full of lovely melodies and, in the case of the Four Short Pieces, one longs for the natural colours in the music to shine through. The opening movement of Fox’s Six Sketches is rhythmically more ambitious, with a splendid dialogue between piano and clarinet, while the third movement has a repeated, rollicking piano melody that harks back to the slapstick of Arnold’s Scherzetto.

The 1940s jazz flavour of Billy Amstell’s Stick O’Liquorice is nicely delivered, while in the ‘Live Bonus Track’, Nostalgia Too, Sutherland and Butler are in a more relaxed, almost improvisatory, mood. It is a rather uninspired medley on Spread a Little Happiness by Vivian Ellis, Ray Noble’s Love is the Sweetest Thing and Novello’s The Leap Year Waltz. The recording makes the clarinet sound rather more reedy than usual in the higher registers and, as before, the piano is not ideally caught. A lacklustre end to what ought to have been a much more enjoyable disc.

By their nature miniatures need to appeal quickly and directly to the listener if they are to make their mark. Despite the recording some of these pieces do succeed, but one senses that most are not being heard to their best advantage in terms of either performance or recording.

The booklet offers brief thumbnails on the composers and the pieces played. The cover artwork is similarly uninspiring and the overall effect is of a project agreed and executed without paying enough attention to detail. For a disc that retails at £12.50 on Campion’s own website that simply will not do.

I really wanted to like this disc – and it does contain some eminently likeable pieces – but the untidy playing and poor recording make listening much more of an effort than a pleasure.

Dan Morgan

 


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