Clarinet Goes to Town

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Various composers
LABELS: Nimbus Alliance
ALBUM TITLE: Clarinet Goes to Town
WORKS: Various works
PERFORMER: Emma Johnson (clarinet), Paul Clarvis (percussion), John Lenehan (piano); Carducci Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: NI 6335

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This collection of two dozen ‘lollipops’ provides a showcase for Emma Johnson’s cultured style and impeccable technique. On six of the tracks, she’s joined by the Carducci Quartet: they contribute idiomatic string effects to fast and light accounts of Piazzolla’s Libertango and Monti’s Czárdás, and accompany a reflective reading of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and a knockout performance of Giampieiri’s variations on The Carnival of Venice. On six more, she’s partnered by the excellent John Lenehan: these items include some genuine clarinet-and-piano repertoire such as William Lloyd Webber’s pretty Frensham Pond, some authorised transcriptions including Ravel’s languid Pièce en forme de Habanera and Elgar’s lovely Canto popolare, and some new arrangements such as a successful makeover of a Chopin Nocturne.

The other dozen tracks are played by the trio of Johnson, Lenehan and the drummer Paul Clarvis. The percussion adds some unnecessary punctuation to Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk, but lends momentum to Alec Templeton’s jazzy fugue Bach Goes to Town. However, when the repertoire moves into genuine jazz territory – some numbers from New Orleans, others associated with the Benny Goodman Trio – Johnson’s straight tone, neat phrasing and on-the-beat precision sound polite and out of place. A handful of these pieces scattered through the disc might have provided lively contrast; relying on them so much seems a mistake.

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Anthony Burton