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Ebony and Ivory
Serban NICHIFOR (b.1954)
Two Dances for Andrew Simon (2003) [4:55]
Joseph HOROVITZ (b.1926)
Two Majorcan pieces (1956) [4:09]
Sonatina for clarinet and piano (1981) [13:31]
Diversions on a Familiar Theme (1997) [7:46]
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
Dance Preludes (version for clarinet and piano) (1955) [11:03]
Arnold COOKE (1906-2006)
Sonata in B flat for clarinet and piano (1959) [20:06]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Sonatina in G minor for clarinet and piano, Op. 29 (1951) [8:05]
Ebony and Ivory (Andrew Simon (clarinet), Warren Lee (piano))
rec. 21-23 November 2012, Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, UK.
NAXOS 8.573022 [69:35]

Bursting forth with Serban Nichifor’s A Musical Joke and Carnyx (pieces dedicated to Andrew Simon), this CD immediately entices its listener. Inspired by Romanian folk music and jazz, Two Dances for Andrew Simon is spicy and rhythmically athletic. Recorded at Wyastone Hall, to a certain extent these pieces are engulfed in an airy, hollow interior. Though this does not detract from Simon’s great skill and impressionable character, a more intimate setting for these quirky pieces would have been better. 

Two Majorcan Pieces emerged out of Joseph Horovitz’s honeymoon in Paguera (the title of the first piece) with his wife Anna in 1956. Sensitive to the swelling affection and jollity inherent in these pieces, Simon, accompanied by the magical Warren Lee, plays with grace and imagination. With a chocolate tone which emerges out of a sensitive, rolling piano backdrop, the duo begins Horovitz’s Sonatina. Lee sets the sombre mood for the second movement (Lento, quasi andante). Here the sense of loss and introversion is evoked through the tenderness of the clarinet’s lower register. With its bluesy piano part and lively clarinet rhythms, the final movement makes the listener retract from drawing parallels with Finzi’s altogether more serious and lucid Clarinet Concerto, though that composer’s influence is certainly there. With an intriguing admixture of lyricism and clownishness, this composition rightfully holds a prominent place amongst the clarinet repertoire. Along with works by Cooke and Arnold, Horovitz’s Sonatina can be heard performed by Michael Collins (clarinet) and Michael McHale (piano) on British Clarinet Sonatas (Chandos CHAN 10758).

Diversions on a Familiar Theme (that theme being Schumann’s Merry Peasant) is chirpy and light-hearted. Simon and Lee intertwine perfectly as the piece sways from expressive to contemplative states, waltz to march. Perhaps such togetherness and coherency is due to their concerted effort to work with the composer himself when recording each piece. Horovitz openly thanked the two musicians for their collaborative approach saying: ‘I much appreciate that Andrew and Warren visited me in London in November 2012 to discuss their approach to these clarinet works’ adding ‘I am delighted with their performances on this CD, which retain all my own ideas and display the artists’ individual technical brilliance and sensitivity to every detail’.
Written in 1955, Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s Dance Preludes are both influenced by and stand distinctly apart from Polish folk music. The second dance in particular is expansive, thought-provoking and atmospheric. Lutoslawski’s style in these pieces demonstrates how he used harmonies from small groups of musical intervals and developed them throughout the piece, exploring each mutation and altercation that could be made. A sense of his aleatoric process is evident in the third dance. Both Simon and Lee extract this spontaneity, though they do not lose track of the composer’s subtle contemplative quality; the fourth dance is a perfect example of this paradoxical duality and oppositional dialogue between clarinet and piano. Though Lutoslawski admired Karol Szymanowski, his music also contains the dappled hints of Debussy and Ravel alongside the structural certainty and adventurousness of Beethoven. Overall, one dominant strand emerges here and that is Lutoslawski’s good humour and spirit.
Studying with Paul Hindemith at the Berlin Hochschüle fur Musik, Yorkshire-born Arnold Cooke’s Sonata is like an Anglicized version of Hindemith’s Clarinet Sonata. Meandering in and out of major and minor keys until the very end, this does not immediately convey all. Cooke’s mastery. Both Simon and Lee offer glimpses, they do not shine a spotlight on the piece. This understated emotion comes through in the slow movement (Adagio ma non troppo) where Cooke’s harmonic fluidity is clearly understood and astutely conveyed.
Acknowledging Berlioz, Mahler and Bartók as his major influences Malcolm Arnold draws from an excitingly diverse stock. This eclecticism can be felt through this performance of his Sonatina in G minor, Op. 29. Originally dedicated to Frederick Thurston and with its accessible fast-slow-fast structure, this is bright and breezy. From the opening movement, both Simon and Lee sound as if performing this was tremendous fun. This recording captures that camaraderie and sense of revelry.
The music on this disc is like ‘the social act of communication among people, a gesture of friendship, the strongest there is.’

Lucy Jeffery

Previous review: Byzantion

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