Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Three English Clarinet Concertos - Arnold Cooke - Gordon Jacob - Alan Rawsthorne - Thea King, Clarinet, Northwest Chamber Orch Of Seattle, Alun Francis

This early (1982) Hyperion disc features three clarinet concertos by British composers. I'm posting it for the Arnold Cooke concerto, as a continuation of my Arnold Cooke birthday post.

Rawsthorne's neoclassicism comes somewhat from Hindemith, and his idiom sounds a little like Walton because of it. His music lacks the physical ebullience of Walton's. He strips his music to the bone, and his work usually testifies to an austere, guarded personality. The sun seems to have forgotten to rise, despite some sprightly rhythms. The proportions and the means are very modest, but Rawsthorne manages to suggest great weight without actually piling on the musical pounds. Rawsthorne subtly links its four movements, so that the end of one "fits" the beginning of the next. A current of worry runs through the first-movement "Preludio." The "Capriccio," a scherzo on a three-note idea, jokes, but the laughs are grim and short of breath. The slow movement "Aria," finely adumbrated by pizzicato bass at the scherzo's end, is a grave conversation among the string sections and their principals. The clarinet, to a surprising extent, stays out of things here. When it does sing, it uses its low register. The "Aria" weeps over a bleak landscape. The finale, "Invention," bustles like a wasp guarding its hive. It's not exactly ill-humored, but you can't really call it jolly fun, either. Of the three concerti it's my least favorite actually.

The "Mini-Concerto" of Gordon Jacob makes no claims to profundity. The music seeks, in Debussy's happy phrase, "humbly to please." Jacob has essentially written four miniatures in a kind of Mendelssohnian fast-slow-allegretto-fast progression. He wrote it in 1980 (Jacob died in 1984), but the work harkens back to the heady days of the Twenties. The neoclassicism, as is immediately evident, has more in common with home-grown models than with anything on the continent: Vaughan Williams's "Concerto Accademico" and Holst's "Fugal Concerto", for example. The ideas however are wonderful. He has made little jewels of melody and elegant settings to surround them. The lovely slow movement, at three and a half minutes the biggest of the four – manages to say a lot with very little. The first and third movement will charm you out of your drawers. The tarantella finale is my favorite, quite jaunty and energetic. 

Arnold Cooke's Clarinet Concerto is not unlike his mentor's (Hindemith) Concerto, and much of Cooke's music shares the German master's idiom, with it's fondness for fourths, and a seriousness of attitude. Cooke tends to sing more and to dance less than Hindemith. The counterpoint intensifies rapt singing, rather than exciting rhythm. He has written the most ambitious concerto of the three at slightly under a half-hour, the longest by far. Like Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto, it's genuinely symphonic and has a great deal of matter. It divides into three movements – Allegro, Lento, Allegro vivace. Despite the modesty of its forces, the concerto gives its soloist an heroic part of great substance. It's not a young hero who slays dragons, as in, say, the Strauss first horn concerto, but a hero moving through a darker, uneasier world. The strings shoulder as much of the argument as does the soloist, particularly in the first movement, but the contrast of timbre ensures that we never really forget that the clarinetist is first among equals. The slow movement sings mainly of serious matters, but one also hears the call of the blackbird, which the composer heard in his garden and noted down. Curiously enough, the blackbird's call has ties to the main subject of the movement. The finale is the most Hindemithian part of the concerto, and adds some playfulness to the environment with surprising and vigorous ear-stretching modulations. Enjoy..


theblueamos said...

Very beautiful.Hope things are improving.All the very best from jerusalem.

Tzadik said...

Hi t.b.a. I'm happy to hear you like the disc. Thanks for your thoughts friend, things are okay, rather all I can hope for. -Thankfully we have sweet music to purge the melancholy ;) Regards, Tz