Robert Plane clarinet
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Geoffrey Paterson conductor
Gould Piano Trio
Benjamin Frith Piano
This disc is testimony to the artistry of clarinettist Robert Plane who features in all four works all of which he also premièred. He is clearly a phenomenal player who throws off the considerable difficulties of each with seeming ease. From the jagged mountain peaks to the smooth flowing rivers of sound, his tone, technique, and musicianship are flawless.
Huw Watkins is distinguished as a composer and a chamber pianist, and his Four Fables, for clarinets and piano trio from 2018, are exquisitely written for this combination. The three slow and one fast movement are all beautifully shaped, and the smoothly integrated playing of the soloist and group is beautifully managed.
Sarah Frances Jenkins won the BBC Young Composer Competition in 2017 and her work Shivelight from 2020 demonstrates her considerable development as a composer. Its title is a word invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins to refer to the light piercing a canopy of treetops. Its 11-minute duration is carefully controlled so that the undoubtedly pastoral elements do not become too saccharine or overpowering. The clarinet and piano are perfectly balanced and the whole has a breathless suspension of time about it.
The senior composer here is Diana Burrell, and her spiky, abrasive concerto from 1996 seems out of place among the other works. Parts of it were apparently inspired by ‘the sound of cars, people walking and talking, transistor radios heard from a motionless train on an embankment in Streatham’. Living in a small coastal town these days, I do not think I am in tune with her big city landscape. Even the sounds of roto-toms and sanctus bells could not draw me in. The occasional use of multiphonic squawks on the clarinet sounds as gimmicky as it usually does. Mr Plane and the orchestra give it their all.
A work destined to enter the regular repertoire, if ever there was one, is Mark David Boden’s Clarinet Concerto (2017). Both composer and soloist are keen marathon runners, and that is the inspiration for the piece. It is perfectly conceived for the instrument and orchestra. Throughout there are some wonderful moments of orchestration with unusual combinations of instruments and a judicious use of a battery of percussion. The opening Adrenaline is a breathless moto perpetuo for all the players with a slight klezmer feel to the material. Is there a John Adams influence? In every register Mr Plane’s tone is one of liquid gold. I cannot believe that marathon running is as enjoyable, as this work is pure joy from beginning to end.
The technical team have done a wonderful job in capturing the sound, which is often of wildly varying dynamic. The liner notes are by Mr Plane who gives his interesting and informative personal take of the composers and their works.
Review by Paul RW Jackson