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British Clarinet Music
Charles Harford LLOYD (1849-1919) Suite in the Old Style (1914) [9:48]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) Three Intermezzi Op.13 (1879) [8:03]; Sonata in F major Op.129 (1911) [18:25]
William Yeates HURLSTONE (1874-1906) Four Characteristic Pieces (1899) [14:34]
Cecil Armstrong GIBBS (1889-1960) Three Pieces (1957) [07:56]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) Six Bagatelles Op.23 (1943) [13:49]
Alessandro Travaglini (clarinet); Christopher Howell (piano)
rec. 21 February and 25 May 2009, Studio L'Eremo, Lessona, Italy. DDD
SHEVA SH021 [72:25]

Experience Classicsonline



As elaborated in the well–written and informative liner note by the pianist Christopher Howell, there is a distinct “British Clarinet School” that encompasses both composers and performers stretching back into the middle of the 19th Century. This in turn has led to a core body of work that often turns up on recital discs such as this. The dilemma facing collectors is how much duplication of repertoire do they wish to afford and whether an additional performance of work “A” is worth having to obtain a performance of work “B”. In its own terms this is well-planned and generous disc and should be judged on its own merits alone.
 
Ironically, the least interesting work is also the rarest and the one chosen to open the disc – Charles Harford Lloyd’s Suite in the Old Style. The five movements are modelled on baroque suite dance movements and in total last less than ten minutes. So whilst not outstaying its welcome it is bland and faceless music. To be honest it sounds as if clarinettist Alessandro Travaglini feels the same – this is by far the most routine playing on the disc (one minor typo refers to the third movement as Minute – which led me to speculate if there might be a radio quiz/dance show to be made called Just a Minuet).
 
Travaglini’s approach throughout is an emotionally cool, vibratoless style aided by a very clean technique and an even tonal beauty across the entire range of the instrument. He is accompanied by the secure and stylish but not attention seeking playing of Christopher Howell. Neither play in an extrovertedly romantic way but on repeated listening I have to say I felt this suited the music well. Only during the Stanford Sonata in F major Op.129 did I feel that a little more emotional heft would have paid greater dividends. In contrast the Finzi Bagatelles benefit from the simple lyricism of this approach – try track 20 Romance for an example of a long arching musical line beautifully and artlessly sustained. In fact once we were past the routine music making of the Lloyd this disc proves to be a treasure trove of relatively unfamiliar music. Stanford still labours under the easy dismissal of being the Anglo/Irish Brahms but I thought his early 3 Intermezzi Op.13 show sparks of real individuality. Likewise the afore-mentioned Sonata in F major Op.129 from the other end of his compositional career is both powerful and appealing although far from revolutionary. Enjoy it in its own right and don’t worry about whether it is the most original piece of music. The Hurlstone 4 Characteristic Pieces appear on several similar recital discs but I had not previously heard them. They are a delight, again performed with easy grace and skill – a well balanced sequence and worth the entrance price alone. I have a particular fondness for Cecil Armstrong-Gibbs. In recent years recordings of major works by him have shown him to be a composer of far greater significance than his contributions to light music alone might suppose. However, we are still waiting for modern recording of his powerful sequence of string quartets. In the meantime these three miniatures are just that – slight but charming and again performed with a subtle skill that does no try to imbue them with a weight they do not aim to possess. But it is the Finzi Bagatelles that find the most rewarding balance between miniature form and perfectly judged musical utterance, they close the disc most satisfyingly. Each of the five movements evokes a very particular mood in little more than a couple of minutes and the performance here allows them to unfold in all their unforced glory – an excellent way to close the disc.
 
The Sheva Collection label are to be congratulated for putting together such an imaginative and interesting programme. Judging from information on their website this is a small-scale company (their recording venue is quite literally a room in a private house) but the production values are high. There is a beautifully natural balance achieved between the 2 instruments in a warm but not overly resonant acoustic. Actually it is very like having the players perform for you in your front room. My guess is that the greatest hurdle faced by this disc is the one outlined at the start of the review – the balance for the potential purchaser between cost, repertoire and performers. A recent Naxos disc entitled The English Clarinet NAXOS 8.570539 was well received and includes the Finzi and Hurlstone. The same pieces are duplicated by Thea King on a double disc set from Hyperion but with the Stanford Sonata too CDD22027. The Stanford and Hurlstone also appear on a Chandos recital disc CHAN9079. Having heard none of these other discs I cannot make a comparative judgement – enough to say I will return with great pleasure to this disc which enshrines rather old-fashioned values of music-serving musicianship, realistically recorded and simply presented.
 
A beautiful disc of essentially lyrical English Clarinet music
 
Nick Barnard

see also review by John France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


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