Robert Plane does British music four favours in a treasure trove of discoveries.
You’d have thought the rich seam of forgotten masterpieces of British orchestral music would show signs of running dry, yet hardly a month goes by without some musical prospector turning up a nugget or two. While some finds are hardly essential, clarinettist Robert Plane has managed to unearth three real gems by composers many listeners have probably never even heard of, each with a different – and convincing – explanation as to why they are barely known.
The most purely exciting work here comes from Glasgow-born Iain Hamilton (1922-2000). Thanks to its parts being mislaid, his Royal Philharmonic Society Award-winning concerto hasn’t been heard in 50 years. A student of Alwyn, Hamilton also absorbed influences from Bartók and Stravinsky lending this substantial half-hour work an appealingly convincing blend of surging lyricism and a skittish, almost folksy neo-Classicism. There are even touches of blues here and there. The haunting slow movement is richly involving topped off by a part-playful, part-serious finale. When the work is so interesting, it’s easy for the soloist to become a footnote…
… but with his rich tone, nuanced playing and compellingly dramatized account, Plane deserves full marks here and top billing.
A more conventionally romantic concerto is that of Richard H. Walthew (1872-1951). A student of Parry and friend of close contemporary Vaughan Williams, Walthew left his Clarinet Concerto – an early work – un-orchestrated and in manuscript (it’s been skilfully completed here by Alfie Pugh). It’s less ‘modern’ than RVW, but full of warmth and melodic interest with a sunny Edwardian optimism on either side of a noble slow movement.
Again, Plane does the work full justice, employing a fetching range of tonal variety and enjoying the opportunities in the up-beat finale with its hint of Eric Coates for a bit of cheerfulness and cheek. A real charmer.
Despite the enthusiasm of her mentor Vaughan Williams, Ruth Gipps (1921-1999) struggled to make headway in a male-dominated musical world. She’s undergoing a bit of a revival with her Piano Concerto recently recorded on Somm and her Second and Fourth Symphonies appearing on Chandos. Her engaging Clarinet Concerto reflects the influence of her teacher – if perhaps lacking his individuality – but is little the worse for that. The intertwining oboe and clarinet lines that open the mellow central Lento – Gipps played oboe in the City of Birmingham Orchestra and wrote this concerto for her clarinettist husband – is a lovely personal touch.
Plane’s legato here is smooth as butter.
The disc is rounded off by Graham Partlett’s orchestration for clarinet and strings of John Ireland’s highly regarded Fantasy Sonata. Lovingly arranged, it brings out a misty, pastoral side to the work while buoying up its livelier sections.
Plane responds with plenty of dexterity and rhapsodical passion.
British music champion Martyn Brabbins gives each work its individual head and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra offer warmly sympathetic accompaniments, especially in the Hamilton, which is by no means an easy work to pull off.
The beautifully full and naturally engineered recording, made in Glasgow City Halls last year, is a credit to Plane, Brabbins, and especially to Champs Hill Records for enabling these works to see the light of day.