The thread that runs through three of the clarinet pieces in
this disc is Frederick ‘Jack’ Thurston. Thurston was, with his
colleague and compatriot, Reginald Kell (a very different kind
of player tonally and expressively), one of the most admired
of British clarinettists. He drew commissions from many composers
and gave numerous premiere performances. His influence was all-encompassing.
Recordings, and some rare surviving broadcast performances,
all attest to his superb qualities as a musician.
Thurston gave the premiere of Bax’s Clarinet Sonata in
1935. He was the dedicatee and first performer of Roger Fiske’s
sonata in 1941, and Iain Hamilton’s Three Nocturnes
a decade later. These are the three works around which the Thurston
theme satellites. This recording of Bax’s Sonata is noteworthy
because clarinettist Nicholas Cox, Principal Clarinet of the
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, has gone back to the
manuscript to restore Bax’s original phrasing. He also makes
a plea for a long-overdue comparative edition of the sonata,
which one hopes may be forthcoming. Jack Brymer once said that,
as far as Bax was concerned, ‘the more romantic the approach
the better’ when it comes to performances of the sonata. Brymer
also cautioned that the second of the two movements was tricky,
requiring an instrument in the ‘peak of mechanical condition’.
There have been many recordings of the Sonata, but this one
is highly persuasive. Cox and Ian Buckle relax just a touch
more than is common in the Molto moderato first movement,
allowing a degree of rubato to make its expressive mark. The
result accords with Brymer’s observation that Bax loved hearing
the work, and hearing it romantically. Cox’s tone is variegated
and warmly communicative, and his articulation is excellent.
Roger Fiske is better known as a writer and broadcaster
than as a composer. His Sonata is heard here in a premiere recording.
It opens in genial fashion, somewhat pastoral in orientation,
though more astringent material redirects its course. There’s
a bittersweet quality to parts of the variational central movement,
as well as some lark-like ascents. It’s a piece as well written
for piano as clarinet, and that includes the warm coda in the
finale and droll closing figure. Iain Hamilton’s Three
Nocturnes are concentrated and elevated examples of his
sense of atmosphere and colour, not least in the ‘diabolico’
second with its phantasmagoria tinged with mocking insolence.
The last Nocturne exudes a not wholly untroubled quietude.
Hugh Wood was a pupil of Hamilton. His ‘Paraphrase on
Bird of Paradise’ is in five sections but plays without
a break. The narrative and colours, the fugitive reminiscences
and reflections, are compelling throughout. Finally Cox and
Buckle play Richard Rodney Bennett’s Duo Concertante,
as brilliantly extrovert as Wood’s was reflectively interior.
It too harbours shadows and tersely quiet passages that brood
uneasily. Both the Wood and Bennett pieces were written for
An excellent recording, then, well engineered, and with a booklet
that offers everything a listener needs to appreciate a well
balanced selection of works.
see also review
by John France