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ClassicsOnline Home » Clarinet Recital: Bradbury, John - BAX, A. / ROXBURGH, E. / FINZI, G. / HURLSTONE, W. (The English Clarinet)
The clarinet is the most versatile of all wind instruments, able to express warmth, brilliance, passion and elegy. All facets of the clarinet are represented here, unified by the English school. Lloyd Webber and Edward German give us enchanting melody, Hurlstone uses drama and song whereas Bliss writes a lament. Bax and Finzi deliver masterworks, now essential clarinet repertoire, and Patterson and Roxburgh add fire and fantasy to this collection.
By Em Marshall
Albion Magazine Online
By David Denton
This highly enjoyable release of music by English composers through the 20th century presents many gems. There is the sad promise that Four Characteristic Pieces show for the gifted composer William Hurlstone, appointed professor at London’s Royal Academy of Music in 1905 only to die the following year aged thirty. It is quintessentially English when such a style was only just beginning. There are tracks of salon music, Edward German’s gentle Romance setting the scene for two pieces by William Lloyd-Webber, the distinguished educationalist and father of Andrew, today’s most successful composer of musicals. In more serious mood we have Bax’s two-movement Sonata from 1934, a score that perfectly explores the instrument, the finale requiring considerable agility. From modern-day composers comes Edwin Roxburgh’s unaccompanied Four Wordsworth Miniatures, short and highly descriptive pieces, and Paul Patterson’s modern look at a Soliloquy. Better known are the exquisite Five Bagatelles by Gerald Finzi, with Bliss’s deeply elegiac Pastoral composed shortly after his brother’s death in the First World War making a rather sad end to the disc. The soloist is John Bradbury, the long-serving principal of the BBC Philharmonic. Avoiding those squeaky sounds now so beloved of the so-called virtuosos of the instrument, Bradbury produces some of the most elegant and creamy smooth playing you are ever likely to hear, floated pianissimos of real quality. Better known as a major concert organist, James Cryer, is Bradbury’s long standing and estimable piano accompanist, his playing always highly responsive while offering a positive contribution that pushes tempos along.
The English Clarinet
Sir Edward German (1862-1936) studied at the Royal Academy of Music under Ebenezer Prout. His output embraced “light” music, but also included many symphonic works. His early acclaim came first from incidental music for the theatre, and then from his operettas, most notably Merrie England (1902). Romance was written in 1889. He was knighted in 1928.
William Yeates Hurlstone (1876-1906), son of a surgeon, studied composition at the Royal College of Music under Stanford, who singled out his ability even though his contemporaries included Vaughan Williams and Holst. Hurlstone was himself a clarinettist, and many of his compositions feature woodwind. Four Characteristic Pieces were written for the clarinettist George Clinton. Appointed Professor at the RCM aged only 29, Hurlstone died a year later from pneumonia.
Frederick Thurston (1901-1953) was the preeminent British clarinettist of his generation and few instrumentalists have inspired a more distinguished collection of music. Composers who wrote for him include Arnold, Bliss, Bax, Finzi, Ireland, Rawsthorne and William Lloyd Webber, and clarinet solos in numerous orchestral works of that period were written with Thurston in mind.
Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) wrote Thurston a clarinet quintet (1932). Pastoral was written after the Battle of the Somme (1916), in which Arthur Bliss was injured and his younger brother, Francis Kennard Bliss, a clarinettist, was killed.
Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) wrote his Clarinet Concerto (1952) for Thurston. The Five Bagatelles were written ten years earlier, for Pauline Juler, an outstanding player whose career ended when she married. Her obituary in the October 2003 Pakenham Village News describes Pauline Richards (née Juler) as “a gentle, well bred lady, who hid her talent with her charm and wit and her “forgettery” as she called her frequent lapses of memory. Her “forgettery” in fact, was possibly the joke she used on anyone who inquired of her past. She had been a top classical clarinettist of the late thirties and early forties.”
William Lloyd Webber (1914-1982) dedicated Air and Variations to “Frederick Thurston and his pupils at the RCM”. The son of a plumber, Lloyd Webber’s prodigious organ playing earned him a scholarship to the Mercer’s School. He studied at the Royal College of Music under Vaughan Williams, and returned as Professor of Composition. On Frensham Pond was written in 1960, four years before he became Director of the London College of Music.
Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953) dedicated his Clarinet Sonata to Hugh Prew, an industrial chemist, amateur clarinettist and member of Bax’s cricket team, the “Old Broughtonians”. It was first performed by Frederick Thurston and Harriet Cohen at the Cowdray Hall in 1934. Bax’s music is rich in colour and warmth, qualities immediately apparent in the endearing opening bars. A master orchestrator, he achieves a virtuosity in the second movement that is strangely lacking in much twentieth-century clarinet writing.
To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Béla Bartók’s death, Hungarian Radio commissioned fifty composers from around the world to compose chamber works in his homage. Paul Patterson (b. 1947) was chosen to represent Great Britain. He wrote Soliloquy, which is a paraphrase of the theme from the fifth movement from Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. It is a virtuosic showpiece which explores a wide range of clarinet techniques and registers.
Edwin Roxburgh (b. 1937) won a double scholarship to the Royal College of Music to study composition with Herbert Howells and oboe with Terence MacDonagh. He was appointed Vaughan Williams Fellow in Composition at the RCM in 2003. Wordsworth Miniatures were commissioned and first performed by Linda Merrick.
A Cricket Timeline
“Those who decry cricket, decry it for its principal virtue – not understanding that it is the best of all games for building up permanent friendships. Whoever made a lifelong friend by constantly rushing about?” – Clifford Bax, brother of Arnold Bax, 1936
The Bax brothers enjoyed many hours of cricket in the expansive back garden at Ivybank, their childhood home in Hampstead. Keen to relive these days, in 1911 Clifford convened “The Old Broughtonians”, a collection of literary and musical friends, for a series of summer matches in Wiltshire. These remained a fixture (excepting the War years) until 1933. Arnold was a deceptive left-arm bowler, whose best figures were in 1922: 14.4 overs, 2 maidens, 6 for 27.
Sir Edward German’s biographer, WH Scott wrote “Many a happy day he would spend at Lord’s, which was hard by his Hall Road abode.” The captain of Hampshire, after meeting German, remarked “Well, it is extraordinary to find a musician so well versed in the ethics and sport of the game!” German’s favourite all-rounder was “Plum” Warner and he disliked defensive batsmen - “Anything and anyone to get away from the eternal block, block, block!”
Here are some key events in English cricket for the year each piece on the CD was written:
1889 (German) The number of balls per over increases from four to five. South Africa plays its first Test match in cricket against England at Port Elizabeth, becoming the third Test nation after England and Australia.
1899 (Hurlstone) WG Grace appears for England for the final time against the Australian tourists at Lord’s. Wilfred Rhodes makes his début.
1916 (Bliss) The 1914 English cricket season ended prematurely and first class cricket was not resumed until summer 1919. However it continued to be played in schools, universities and on the streets. Amongst cricketers killed in action were Kenneth Hutchings (21 centuries for Kent, 7 England caps) and Colin Blythe (slow left arm, 2500 wickets for Kent, 100 wickets for England).
1934 (Bax) England had won the Ashes in 1933 during the notorious Bodyline tour and this series is keenly awaited. Larwood and Jardine are dropped and Australia regain the Urn with Don Bradman averaging 94 for the series.
1941-43 (Finzi) First Class cricket is again suspended during the war. The Oval is commandeered as a Prisoner of War camp, though not actually used. Lord’s stages some games to keep morale high.
1952 (Lloyd Webber Air and Variations) England defeat the Indian tourists 3-0. Fred Trueman takes 7 wickets in his début test at Headingley.
1960 (Lloyd Webber On Frensham Pond) Brian Statham tops the county bowling averages with 135 wickets at 12.31. Colin Cowdrey captains England to a 3-0 defeat of South Africa.
1994 (Patterson) Brian Lara scores a then test record of 375 against the English winter tourists in Antigua. In summer he scores the first-class record 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham.
1998 (Roxburgh) Atherton is relieved of the captaincy as the English tourists lose 1-3 to Lara’s West Indies.
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