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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)
5. Premonitions (1989) [5:41]
6. Black Fire (2006) [26:02]
Skaerved (violin) [1,2,3,6], Bd. Sgt. Ivan Hutchinson (trumpet)
, Band of HM Royal Marines, Plymouth
[4,6], Longbow , Lt. Col. Chris Davis [2,4,6]
rec. [1, 3-6] 17-19 January 2007, HMS Rayleigh, Plymouth,
UK;  23 December 2006, All Saints Church, Tooting, London,
NAXOS 8.570429 [72:07]
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.
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