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British Clarinet Sonatas - Volume 2
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Sonatina, Op. 29 (1951) [12:35]
Arnold COOKE (1906-2005)
Sonata (1959) [19:08]
Edward GREGSON (b. 1945)
Tributes (2010) [17:47]
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Le Tombeau de Ravel (1949) [13:01]
Joseph HOROVITZ (b. 1926)
Sonatina (1981) [7:20]
Michael Collins (clarinet)
Michael McHale (piano)
rec. 27-28 July 2012, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, England
CHANDOS CHAN 10758 [69:56]

When I reviewed Volume 1 in this series of British Clarinet Sonatas I said that it felt good to see so many British composers gaining exposure in numbers that British music enthusiasts could only have dreamt of a couple of decade ago. Following quickly on the heels of that disc is Volume 2 with soloist Michael Collins joined once again by pianist Michael McHale. Collins continues the tradition of outstanding clarinet playing in Britain as maintained by Frederick Thurston, Gervase de Peyer, Thea King and Emma Johnson not forgetting Mark Simpson, the 2006 winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year.
 
Today the popularity of Malcolm Arnold’s music is burgeoning although many influential figures in the music world still doubt the quality of his scores. I have had that viewpoint expressed directly to me. The relative neglect of Arnold’s music is nothing new. He fought long and hard to obtain the recognition that his music deserves. Arnold’s Sonatina was one of three wind Sonatinas composed for friends in a flurry of activity during 1948-51. Lasting just under eight minutes this three movement score, probably my favourite here, immediately feels typical of the composer. There’s that rhythmic and playful vibrancy complete with an often tongue-in-cheek manner. I especially enjoyed the affectionately tender central movement Andantino. The Finale, marked Furioso, feels like a fast and frantic helter-skelter at a fun-fair.
 
Arnold Cooke studied with Hindemith in Berlin. The more I hear his music the more impressed I become. For those who don’t know Cooke’s music I would suggest hearing his Symphony No.3 available on Lyrita SRCD295. Cooke’s Sonata is a substantial score commissioned by the Hampton Music Club in London for Thea King. She introduced the score in 1959. It’s the longest work on the disc and is cast in four contrasting movements. Opening with darkly rich, pastoral writing, the Allegro moderato follows a vibrant, rhythmic, jumping and darting Scherzo. Next a rather serious and melancholic Adagio precedes the Finale with its vibrantly energising tarantella rhythm.
 
Edward Gregson has written steadily and throughout his life. In 1994 there was a clarinet concerto that Michael Collins premièred. Completed in 2010 Tributes is a suite for clarinet and piano. It was assembled by Gregson over a couple of decades and in 2008 was extensively revised and extended. As the name suggests the five pieces pay tribute to twentieth-century composers who wrote impressively for the clarinet. Each piece is dedicated to a clarinettist that Gregson has worked with. Tributes commences with a skittish and jaunty first pieceTo Francis Poulenc, passionate and tender. The second piece To Gerald Finzi is imbued with pastoral quality. The rhythmic and brisk To Igor Stravinsky is frequently unsettlingly frenetic. Featuring a percussive piano part To Olivier Messiaen features a long lyrical clarinet line of a meditative quality. The concluding To Béla Bartók is notable for its tempestuous forward momentum and those dotted rhythms lend significant appeal. 

Arthur Benjamin, although born in Australia, studied under Stanford at the Royal College of Music in London where he went on to become a teacher. Remembered primarily today for his celebrated but very short hit score Jamaican Rumba Benjamin used folk tunes that he had heard during a working tour of the West Indies. From around 1949 Le Tombeau de Ravel is a set of six Valses-Caprices intended for Frederick Thurston. It was reworked for viola and piano and later underwent some rewriting by Gervase de Peyer. A later adaptation was made by Thea King. The score comprises a series of contrasting miniatures and pays homage to Maurice Ravel’s masterwork Le Tombeau de Ravel. Although played continuously it would have been preferable if the various sections had been indexed in the booklet. Initially I felt a slight suggestion of melancholy and reflection amid all the activity. Next there is a sense of floating as if on thermal like a bird. An impression of indecision is followed by a passage of robust energy. The score concludes in a highly determined but non-raucous manner. Despite repeated plays the Benjamin, although well crafted, fails to leave much of an impression. 

The final work here comes from the pen of Joseph Horovitz a Viennese-born émigré to England who studied with both Gordon Jacob at the RCM and Nadia Boulanger in Paris. The Sonatina written for Gervase de Peyer was completed in 1981 and is cast in three fairly short but distinctly contrasted movements. The appealing opening movement has a dreamy rather meditative quality with a sense of weightlessness. This is followed by a moody and tender slow movement. With suggestions of the Caribbean the melodic final movement is vibrant with a good-to-be-alive feel.
 
Collins and McHale have a special affinity for these attractive British chamber music scores. Collins’ exquisite playing is crisp and evinces sure articulation, refined phrasing and agreeable intonation. McHale is sensitive and supportive. Both players radiate pleasurable music-making. On the audio side, be assured that the engineers have surpassed themselves with glorious sonics.  

Michael Cookson

 

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