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Ruth GIPPS (1921-1999)
Dedication: The Clarinet Chamber Music of Ruth Gipps
Rhapsody in E flat Op.23 (1942) [11:08]
The Kelpie of Corrievreckan (1939) [4:04]
Quintet for oboe, clarinet and string trio Op.16 (1941) [26:32]
Prelude for bass clarinet Op.51 (1957) [6:30]
Sonata for clarinet and piano Op.45 (1955) [19:17]
Peter Cigleris (clarinet)
Gareth Hulse (oboe)
Duncan Honeybourne (piano)
Tippett Quartet
rec. 2020, The Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, UK
First Recordings

Ruth Gipps seems finally to be getting the recognition she truly deserves, becoming a beneficiary of the recent revival of interest in the English romantics. This has resulted in an upsurge in recordings and concert performances of her work in recent times, of which this latest release from Somm, titled ‘Dedication’, is timed to celebrate the centenary of her birth.

Multi-talented, she was not only a fine composer, but an oboist, pianist, conductor, and educator to boot. Her compositions amounted to five symphonies, seven concertos, tone poems, chamber music and several large-scale choral works. She entered the Royal College of Music in 1937, and studied oboe with Leon Goossens, piano with Arthur Alexander and composition with Gordon Jacob. Later Vaughan-Williams became a mentor. Sadly she composed at a time when modern trends were making their strong presence felt. Considered to be out of step, she struggled for many years securing performances of her works and making her mark in a male dominated musical world. She passed away in 1999 at the age of seventy-eight.

There’s a lovely photo on the booklet cover of the composer and her clarinettist-husband Robert Baker. The two married in 1942, and each of the works featured on this disc, all receiving first recordings, were composed especially for Robert. We open with the Rhapsody in E flat Op.23, written in 1942 and scored for clarinet and string quartet. The opening sets the scene, one of pastoral charm and pulchritude. The music contemplates the radiance of the scene and, needless to say, it all sounds very English. Peter Cigleris is joined by Duncan Honeybourne on piano for a riveting performance of The Kelpie of Corrievreckan (1939), based on a poem by the 19th century poet and writer Charles Mackay. The piano writing cleverly depicts the Corrievreckan whirlpool between the Scottish isles of Jura and Scarba.

Centre-stage on the disc is the more substantial four-movement Quintet for oboe, clarinet, and string trio Op.16. Penned in 1941, it constituted the completion exercise for Gipps’s Durham University Bachelor of Music Degree. A work of ingenuity and invention, the instrumental writing reveals a high degree of skill and flair, especially in the reciprocity of the two wind instruments, all the while conserving their individual characters. The English pastoral idyll forms a permeating backdrop throughout. The Adagio has a contemplative quality, both wistful and ruminative, whilst the Energetico, which follows, has the buoyancy and rhythm of a peasant dance.

Robert Baker acquired a bass clarinet in the late 1950s and Gipps composed her Prelude for bass clarinet in response. Her husband premiered it in 1957. The booklet notes speculate that it maybe the only solo piece specifically composed for the instrument. Cigleris delivers an ardent and masterful account, responding sensitively to the music’s subtle changes of mood and manifold palette of hues.

The composer won the Cobbett prize of the Society of Women Musicians for her Clarinet Sonata, Op. 45 (1955). The slow movement radiates a sort of inner calm and radiance. I must commend Duncan Honeybourne for the exquisite pearl-like sonorities he achieves. The Scherzando moves along at an animated pace with breathless abandon. The fourth movement begins nobly before transforming into a rustic-type dance. Gipps signs off with an exuberant final flourish.

All the performers, including the Tippet Quartet, appear to be totally committed to this music and offer vital and intensely focused performances. Robert Matthew-Walker’s accompanying booklet note provides all one requires. Beautifully recorded, the balance between the instrumentalists is second-to-none. For newcomers who wish to explore the music of Ruth Gipps, this is as good a place to start as any.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: John France

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