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Nigel CLARKE (b. 1960)
1. Pernambuco (1994) [7:00]
2. The Miraculous Violin (2000) [18:09]
3. Loulan (2002) [3:27]
4. Samurai (1995, rev 2007) [11:48]
5. Premonitions (1989) [5:41]
6. Black Fire (2006) [26:02]
Peter Sheppard Skaerved (violin) [1,2,3,6], Bd. Sgt. Ivan Hutchinson (trumpet) [5], Band of HM Royal Marines, Plymouth [4,6], Longbow [2], Lt. Col. Chris Davis  [2,4,6]
rec. [1, 3-6] 17-19 January 2007, HMS Rayleigh, Plymouth, UK; [2] 23 December 2006, All Saints Church, Tooting, London, UK. DDD
NAXOS 8.570429 [72:07]
Experience Classicsonline

This is an interesting mix of works, by Nigel Clarke, an exciting emerging talent in the British contemporary music scene. Many of the works included here are world premiere recordings, and it is a real pleasure to hear them.
The opening track is Pernambuco, a seven minute extravaganza for solo violin. Expertly performed by Peter Sheppard Skaerved, this work is a virtuoso display of instrumental techniques, changing colours and emerging drama. The central lyrical section is captivating and forms a stark contrast with the highly demanding outer sections. The final part of the piece adds percussive effects, which add to the extreme physical demands of the work for the performer. This is a hugely enjoyable piece, which betrays Clarke’s abilities as a composer and his understanding of the instrument he is writing for.  The title refers to ‘brazil wood’, described in the programme notes as ‘vital to the construction of the modern bow’ and the piece as a whole deals with the subject of the bow as an instrument within its own right.
The Miraculous Violin was a commission from the British Council and I Solisti di Zagreb, and was composed in close collaboration with all the performers. This is a wonderful work, which engaged me thoroughly from beginning to end. Although this is concert music, it would not be out of place in a film score (in fact, Clarke is also a highly successful film composer). This is a dramatic piece which appeals to the imagination. Again hugely demanding for the performers, this piece is full of Eastern European colours, with a wonderful array of textures and ideas.  The playing is magnificent from all the performers; Longbow accompanies the solo violin line with panache and, once again, Peter Sheppard Skaerved gives a highly polished performance.
The remaining solo violin track on this disc is Loulan, a short piece which was inspired by traditional Chinese sounds and structures. Clarke creates an entirely different sound from the instrument than we have heard in the previous two pieces, demonstrating his versatility as a composer. His ability to conjure up images in his work is astonishing, and once again, the violin playing is exemplary.
The title track of this disc is Samurai, which is perhaps one of Clarke’s most well known and most frequently performed works. Composed for Wind Ensemble, the piece received its world premiere in Japan by the Royal Northern College of Music’s Wind Orchestra, as one of a number of works commissioned by Timothy Reynish for that ensemble. The title makes reference to Clarke’s admiration of the Samurai culture, and this explosive piece contains elements of Samurai warfare and culture. Sometimes looked down on as a poor substitute to an orchestra, the Wind Orchestra has, from time to time, suffered a bad press. However, well written repertoire such as this proves that there is an important role for this kind of ensemble. Clarke is a master of orchestration; the use of percussion here is particularly compelling.  The rhythmic drive is a life force of this work. This performance by the HM Royal Marines Band, Plymouth, has a wonderful sense of discipline and an underlying warmth of tone.
This is followed by Premonitions, a short work for solo trumpet, which serves as a prelude to Black Fire, a work for violin and wind ensemble. Premonitions is a strong piece, containing a range of expressions and colours. The performance here is excellent; Band Sergeant Ivan Hutchinson plays with real panache. Black Fire, the concluding work on the disc, has a range of influences in its composition, including Kurt Weill, Wagner (the work contains a quote from Götterdämmerung), Milton and engravings by Doré (these engravings inspired the title of the work). The solo violin provides a distinctive and sometimes sinister voice against the wind orchestra, with Clarke once again demonstrating his expertise as an orchestrator. There is much in this work to fuel the imagination.
This is a well produced recording which contains a fantastic array of works. The playing is consistently excellent and the diversity in Clarke’s output is impressive. Unmissable.
Carla Rees


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