Each of these four works is heard in première recordings courtesy of clarinettist Robert Plane, who continues to prove as adroit a practitioner as he is programmer.
He’s ferreted in the repertoire of British clarinet works to include a Royal Philharmonic Society award-winning concerto by Iain Hamilton that has not been performed in half a century, a turn-of-the-twentieth-century concerto by Richard H Walthew – I first heard of Walthew many years ago in connection with his clever piece Mosaic – Ruth Gipps’s lovely wartime Concerto and John Ireland’s Fantasy Sonata (but not in the way one usually hears it, rather in an orchestration by Graham Parlett).
Hamilton’s Concerto was composed in 1950 and offers a harlequinade flourish, a kind of clarinet Til Eulenspiegel feel, with pirouetting wit tinged with Waltonian swagger rhythms. Slow introspective ideas fuse with strongly jazzy cadences. I agree with sleeve note writer Daniel Jaffé that the slow movement’s horn writing evokes Britten’s Serenade but the concise agitation and associated percussive writing are all Hamilton’s own. The luminous winding down, passion spent, is notably successful and prepares one for impish Bartókian figures in a finale full of virtuosity and flair.
The co-ordination between soloist and orchestra sounds tricky but Plane and Martyn Brabbins negotiate things with sang froid, reflect and soliloquise over past themes and draw things eloquently together. It is indeed a mystery why this fine work has sunk so deeply.
Ruth Gipps’ Concerto dates from 1940 and is both more concise and less quixotic in its influences. Orchestration is deft and apposite and as befits a Vaughan Williams pupil, the work is reflective of his influence. This is an elegant work with a fantasia-like fluidity to it that ensures a naturally conversational and songful intimacy. The oboe was Gipps’ own instrument so when it joins the clarinet in the central movement, chamber intimacy is assured, Finzi-like in its ethereal beauty. To banish care, a jaunty jig brings this delicious work to a close.
Walthew wrote his Concerto in 1902. It is almost – almost but not quite – complete but its manuscript was left unorchestrated. Into this breach steps Alfie Pugh. It’s a genial, old school and solidly Germanic affair, presumably influenced by the then pervasive figure of clarinettist Richard Mühfeld. There is some con bravura writing, a good first movement cadenza, with a Mendelssohnian Violin Concerto bridge between the first two movements. The songful slow movement put me in mind of Ombra mai fù more than once and there are certainly Lighter Music elements at work. Mendelssohn is the primary impulse in the finale but there is plenty of frolicsome energy to enjoy. Frederick Thurston gave the first performance of John Ireland’s Fantasy Sonata and it’s one of the composer’s best-known and recorded pieces. To inflate it in this way runs the risk of grandiosity but fortunately Parlett’s string orchestral work emphasises the pastoral nature of the work. I’m sure admirers will return to this new version whilst clearly respecting the chamber original.
The excellent standards of production here enhance a clever selection of pieces and moods. ‘Reawakened’ is the disc’s title; you can also go for Restored, Revived or simply Reclaimed.
Whichever you decide on, you’ll be assured of splendid and fully communicative performances.