Brave New World

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Hindemith,Lutosławski and Messiaen,Prokofiev,Rota
LABELS: Champs Hill
ALBUM TITLE: Brave New World
WORKS: Works by Prokofiev, Hindemith, Rota, Lutosławski and Messiaen
PERFORMER: Emma Johnson (clarinet), John Lenehan (piano)

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On this booklet cover Emma Johnson stands before us stark in black among autumn leaves – a fitting enough image for this satisfyingly thoughtful recital of music mostly written under the dark shadow of World War Two. Sadness even creeps into Nino Rota’s bubbly Sonata in D, and the heart-breaking slow movement to Hindemith’s 1939 Sonata lifts the piece far beyond its expected status as a musical roll of wallpaper.

Prokofiev’s 1942 Flute Sonata (later reworked for violin) gains a place via Johnson’s own transcription for clarinet, an instrument completely at home in this masterly work’s darker corners and bittersweet melodies. Dance Preludes finds Lutosławski starting to ease himself away from folk music, his safety net during Poland’s Stalinist post-war years. Then, most movingly, comes the clarinet solo ‘Abîme des oiseaux’, from Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, with birdsong bringing hope and light to the composer’s prison in Silesia. Messiaen’s early Vocalise-Étude provides the programme’s note of farewell.

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Johnson brings to this varied repertoire lyrical beauty, excited squawks and many shades in between. If she makes overall less of an expressive impact than she should, that’s partly because of some inbuilt reserve. There’s also the sound balance, which gives the edge to John Lenehan’s piano. Good to hear him, as always; but not quite to this extent. Geoff Brown