This fascinating release was seemingly the result of curiosity on the part of clarinettist John Bradbury, who discovered many of the pieces on this recording when browsing through the Radio Times archive to see what was
played on the radio between the 1920s and 1930s for clarinet and piano. Some of the names might be well known, especially to those interested in Light Music, but some were new to me.
The music of Edith Swepstone was one such example of a composer I’d never heard of and it appears it was suggested for broadcast, only never to have actually appeared on air. Her piece Une Larme is a gentle and pleasing offering on the CD, even if it somehow seems to fall between two stools, being too long for your average ‘miniature’ but too short perhaps to qualify as a tone poem for clarinet and piano. Its outing here, however, makes it rather saddening that it was not broadcast earlier.
Similarly new to me was Frederick Kell, of whom I could find no information online whatsoever. Initially I wondered if it could be a corruption of Frederick Septimus Kelly, but no such luck. His music, however, fits very neatly into the realm of charming miniatures, not dissimilar to the rather better-known works by Adam Carse, which open the CD. Kelly’s lovely Moods is a particular highlight of his selection here.
Adam Carse’s two pieces Reverie and Happy Tune open the disc and immediately announce this selection as a pleasing tonal sound-world and instantly memorable melodic lines. We are in perhaps more traditional Light Music territory with the Three Light Pieces by Harold Samuel, a figure probably better-known as a pianist and pedagogue than a composer, but the short pieces here reveal a composer with a real gift for melody as well as for music of warmth and charm.
We are also treated to an amusing short piece by Frederic Curzon, Clarinet Con Moto, which closes the CD. As is so often the case, Light Music might be easy on the ear, but not always easy to play and many of the miniature works here prove that point somewhat emphatically. There are sometimes huge leaps of range, rapid runs and phrases that demand considerable breath control of the clarinettist. The piano lines are not much easier, as much of the repertoire found here has to have a lightness of touch coupled with quite extreme precision in sometimes very fast moving piano writing, to be timed exactly with the clarinet soloist. Fortunately, we are in the capable hands of Ian Buckle, who is a fine soloist as well as an exceptional collaborative artist on this disc.
The programming itself, determined it appears by Bradbury, is a shining example of just how well a few well-chosen light pieces can provide fitting contrast to other lengthier, or perhaps ‘heavier’ works. Both Ruth Gipps’ Clarinet Sonata in A Major (a hefty and demanding work at nearly 20 minutes) and John Ireland’s Fantasy Sonata (I expected a submission to the famed Cobbett competition, but find no mention of this) are major and fascinating works deserving of repeated listenings.
Ireland’s Fantasy Sonata is in a single, but demanding movement. Inspired by the Roman comic poem Satyricon, some experts on Ireland have claimed it contains coded references to the composer’s own conflicted sexuality. A challenging work, it uses the entire range of the clarinet, whilst the piano part is dazzlingly virtuosic. Both Bradbury and Buckle bring the coruscating work to our airwaves with truly exceptional performances, handling both the long legato phrases and rhythmically complex writing with extraordinary dexterity. Curiously for a work described as a sonata, the piece only very loosely follows the form and there are fluctuations of tonality coupled with the aforementioned mood changes that the performers must navigate along the way. Both clarinettist and pianist succeed in communicating the sense of ambiguity in the work, whilst remaining utterly convincing in ensuring the music coheres.
For those eager to hear recordings that issue a direct challenge to the notion of light vs heavy music, or for that matter, what constitutes a popular work may very well find this disc an invaluable addition to their collection. The performances are outstanding and the recording quality serves both performers with finely balanced sound ensuring that equal weight is placed on each player. Something perhaps for your musical friend who needs something a little different to listen to at Christmas! DA