A treasure-trove of clarinet discoveries; all are first recordings. If you need a taster, try the slow movement of Ruth Gipps’s Concerto (1940); it’s really quite lovely, pastoral-bittersweet, Finzi-like in its soulful character. The surrounding movements are, firstly, frolicsome and easygoing, and, finally, country-dance playful.
A couple of the pieces have unfortunate histories – orchestral parts lost (Hamilton) or never scored (Walthew). But here they are, rescued from undeserved oblivion.
Iain Hamilton’s Concerto (1950) is notable for its quick-change artistry, opening with symphonic intent and soon putting the soloist through a variety of challenges with music that bristles with quality invention – powerful, lyrical, spiky, intense, dramatic, with a dark central movement that climaxes in pain countered by a frisky Finale that darts hither and thither – a good listen over three movements totalling half-an-hour.
The Concerto (1902) by London-born Richard H. Walthew (1872-1951, a weeks-apart contemporary of Vaughan Williams) is virtually complete, yet there is no orchestration, until this idiomatic one by Alfie Pugh. 1902 might be the year but it could date from decades earlier; there were times when Weber came to mind, brilliant roulades of notes for the clarinettist, which means the music is attractively traditional, engaging too, not least when Hubert Parry seems to also be in the picture. The song-like middle movement is a particular delight.
John Ireland’s Fantasy Sonata (1943) is the best-known music here, in its with-piano original. Now heard in Graham Parlett’s sympathetic scoring the music weaves an enchanted web of expression before an exciting conclusion.
No praise is too high for Robert Plane’s musicianship, virtuosity and sensitivity (he is about to step down as principal clarinet of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales to take an appointment at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama) here linked-in with very supportive BBC Scottish colleagues. As ever, Martyn Brabbins conducts as if these rare birds were standard repertoire.
With excellent sound engineered by Dave Rowell (City Halls, Glasgow, June last year) this release is a fitting tribute to David Bowerman, the founder of Champs Hill Records, who died a month ago.
Colin Anderson is also Editor of Classical Source.