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Rediscovered – British Clarinet Concertos

Peter Cigleris (clarinet), Deian Rowlands (harp); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Ben Palmer (Cala Signum)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Dolmetsch: Concerto for Harp, Clarinet and Orchestra; Maconchy: Concertino for Clarinet and String Orchestra; Spain-Dunk: Cantilena for Clarinet and Orchestra; P Wishart: Serenata Concertante for Clarinet and Small Orchestra
Peter Cigleris (clarinet), Deian Rowlands (harp); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Ben Palmer
Cala Signum SIGCD656   77:19 mins

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Four clarinet works by British composers of the 1930s-’40s here see the light of day; all but the Maconchy are world premiere recordings. It’s a fascinating journey through a period of intense change in British musical life; for those intrigued by this era and its long-lost music, this disc will provide food for thought.

The Concertino by Elizabeth Maconchy is the finest chiselled, a piece of cool-edged modernism that feels a bit like listening to a Paul Klee painting, with the clarinet a deft and delicate paintbrush. The Susan Spain-Dunk Cantilena seems to blend Delius and Addinsell, offering a Big Tune plus soft-focus harmonies around folksong-style melodies. Rudolph Dolmetsch reflects the era’s interest in Elizabethan music, while his matching of clarinet with harp is both appealing and unusual. Peter Wishart’s six-movement Serenata Concertante makes brief references to a Christmas carol, a waltz and other forms; it’s hard to tell whether he meant them to sound sardonic. The four works conjure a strange, inward-looking world, seemingly with scant awareness of the virtuoso compositional techniques being embraced then by the likes of Ravel, Bartók, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky, let alone Schoenberg. Maconchy’s piece alone might survive that baptism of fire.

Peter Cigleris presents them with a rich, consistent tone and splendidly mellifluous phrasing; the partnership with Deian Rowlands’s harp is pleasing, the BBC NOW and Palmer are attentive and well balanced and the recorded sound is clear and warm. The pieces therefore enjoy first-rate advocacy. Listeners can make up their own minds as to whether all of them deserve it.

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Jessica Duchen