Clarinet Variations
Jean FRANCAIX (1912 - 1997) Clarinet Concerto (1967) [22:48]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868) Introduction, Theme and Variations (1810) [13:33]
Brian BOYDELL (1917 - 2000) Elegy and Capriccio Op.42 (1956) [13:07]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852 - 1924) Clarinet Concerto in A minor Op.80 (1904) [21:43]
Archibald James POTTER (1918 - 1980) Fantasy for Clarinet and Orchestra [5:10]
John Finucane (clarinet)
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra/Robert Houlihan
rec. National Concert Hall, Dublin, June 2009
RTÉ LYRIC FM CD124 [76:25]

One might think that this release is just a visiting card to highlight John Finucane’s instrumental prowess. But take a quick glance at its content which belies the justifiable prejudice. The programme of this generous release has much to offer in terms of rarely heard works for clarinet and orchestra. One might single out Rossini’s Variations and Stanford’s Clarinet Concerto as the best known works here although Stanford’s concerto is not performed that often.

Jean Françaix is well known for his light-hearted music-making although he too was capable of more serious things; but he is generally regarded as a composer of immediately appealing music characterised by clear-cut themes and harmonies of great melodic charm. His substantial Clarinet Concerto is no exception although it also has its more serious side here and there. Even so, the prevailing mood is that of happy the music-making one has come to associate with this composer.

Stanford’s Concerto is another substantial work in this programme. It is somewhat better known than Françaix’s though it too may not claim any over-exposure. Though fairly typical of Stanford, the idiom may be a bit dated and still firmly indebted to the great continental tradition. It nevertheless leaves a powerful impression and a strong feeling of seriousness and sincerity which is quite often Stanford’s hallmark.

Rossini’s Variations heard here in a version edited and arranged by Jost Michaels are part of any clarinettist’s staple diet, as Finucane rightly remarks in his insert notes. As might be expected the music often has an operatic character full of great melodic charm.

The other items in this far from run-of-the-mill programme are works by Irish composers. Brian Boydell was a highly respected name in Irish music circles. He composed a number of substantial works including symphonic pieces as well as chamber music that are all still too little heard. His Elegy and Capriccio Op.42 for clarinet and strings composed in 1956 is a somewhat lighter work and the title clearly hints at what the music is about. This is a lovely work that should be in any clarinettist’s repertoire.

Archibald James Potter, too, was a much-loved personality. His output includes a number of substantial works such as his imposing Sinfonia “De Profundis” (1968 - recorded on Marco Polo 8.225158 which is I hope still available) but also a number of shorter orchestral works such as the fairly popular Finnegan’s Wake. The Fantasy recorded here is one of those short, somewhat lighter works in an overtly Irish vein full of verve and charm. I will just mention a small point about this piece in that the sleeve states that it is scored for strings whereas one clearly hears a small orchestra.

This is a very fine programme. The excellent performances are matched by a very fine recording. As mentioned earlier, this is far more than a mere visiting card. It is an enjoyable programme happily mixing fairly well-known works with real rarities - all well worth having.

Hubert Culot