Iain Hamilton (1922-2000) composed his Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, Op. 7, in 1950 and his work displays influences of Bartók and Walton. The entire work is quite dramatic and very effective. It begins with the clarinet providing a “puckish” mood. This opening is quite extensive and Plane provides a crisp, biting staccato that creates a rather grotesque, dance-like mood.
One can also admire the technical prowess needed to play this piece. The second movement displays Plane’s beautiful lyrical lines which provide a delightful contrast to the first movement. The final movement starts as a bizarre dance, but it once again includes more virtuosity. Plane handles this with aplomb.
The second piece on this disc is Concerto for Clarinet (1902) by Richard H. Walthew (1872-1951). Walthew left the concerto completed but did not orchestrate it. Alfie Pugh finished the orchestration later. There are three movements in a fast-slow-fast setting. The style is Germanic, rather like Weber at times, but more harmonically complex (á la Strauss). A lovely clarinet cadenza closes the first movement. This piece is a gem and is perfect for a virtuoso clarinetist.
Plane is clearly up for the task; his technique is outstanding. The coruscating runs will clearly galvanize any audience.
For clarinet aficionados, the last movement might be used for a scintillating encore.
Ruth Gipps (1921-1999) composed her Clarinet Concerto in G Minor, Op.9, in 1940. This piece has considerably more interplay between the solo clarinet and orchestra. The first movement ends with a brief cadenza for the clarinet. The second movement begins with an oboe solo; then the clarinet joins in to make a playful duo. Soon the orchestra joins in playing a soothing variant of the oboe’s opening theme. The movement ends with a clarinet solo, but, the oboe joins in and the two close with an amorous duettino that provides an appealing symmetry to the movement. The last movement alternates between an Irish jig and a tarantella, providing a carefree, boisterous ending.
The last piece is Fantasy Sonata (1943) by John Ireland (1879-1962). The original score is for clarinet and piano but Graham Parlett has arranged it for clarinet and string orchestra. This adaptation makes the pastoral character more transparent.
Robert Plane is a superb performer. He has a refined tone, rock-solid rhythm, excellent intonation and musicality, and impeccable articulation.
Martyn Brabbins has done meticulous preparation in conducting these works and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is superb.
Finally, credit goes to Daniel Jaffe for his interesting and copious liner notes. All four works are world premiere recordings.