I Hamilton: Clarinet Concerto; Walthew: Clarinet Concerto; Gipps: Clarinet Concerto in G minor; Ireland: Fantasy Sonata
Robert Plane (clarinet); BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
Champs Hill CHRCD160 77:43 mins
Of all the British clarinet works on this enterprising album that need reawakening, the easy winner is Iain Hamilton’s compelling concerto, first performed in 1952, but lost from sight after its orchestral parts were later mislaid. Robert Plane’s resurrection reveals a confident and dynamic example of mid-century ‘Romantic modernism’; a piece occasionally in Walton’s shadow, with some Bartók visitations too, but very much its own boss in instrumental exuberance, orchestral finery, structural coherence and well-knit design. Whether gurgling with rhetorical truculence or sinking into tenderly melancholic sighs, Plane has the work’s full measure, benefiting from a recording balance that puts the soloist first, though the acoustic still leaves plenty of room for the spirited splendours of Martyn Brabbins’s Scottish troops. All told, a thrilling rediscovery from an unfairly neglected composer.
We enter a different, more delicate world with the 1902 concerto of Richard H. Walthew, a Parry pupil who specialised mostly in chamber music. Sunny and blithe in the Mendelssohn way, it’s a piece that well deserves a hearing (plus a stronger last movement). Delights are less abundant in Ruth Gipps’s early concerto of 1940, clearly written under the spell of her teacher Vaughan Williams, though the central lento, piquantly blending clarinet and oboe, is charmingly dispatched here. The last item is Ireland’s eloquently moody clarinet-piano Fantasy Sonata of 1943, with the piano part replaced by an occasionally gushing body of strings. This changes the work’s spell and dynamic, and not for the best. The Hamilton, however…