British Clarinet Concertos
Arguably one of the best-conceived Romantic clarinet concertos, Stanford’s Clarinet Concerto of 1902 has now had a fair number of outings on CD, with Thea King (Hyperion, 11/80), Emma Johnson (ASV, 6/92), Robert Plane (Naxos, 12/08), John Finucane (RTÉ Lyric FM) and Janet Hilton (Chandos, 1/92); indeed, this is the second recording made by Chandos but is executed in a unique manner, with soloist Michael Collins acting as conductor of the BBC SO. Collins’s playing is compelling throughout, as is his conception of the larger one-movement span. The orchestral playing of the BBC SO is crisp and the clarity of the recording allows one to hear a lot more the harmonic colour and variety that is lost in some of the others. There is much energy in the last movement, where Collins shows off not only his splendid agility but also the affecting pathos of the closing pages of the score.
Similarly, Finzi’s Concerto has been a favourite of many clarinettists over the years with its appealing, euphonious melodies enhanced by the rich accompaniment for strings. Collins’s nuances, carefully shaped phrasing and rubato are beautifully suited to the melancholy yearning of Finzi’s style, particularly in the plangent slow movement. Arnold’s Second Clarinet Concerto, by contrast, has a sharper edge that lies tantalisingly between neo-classicism and neo-romanticism. All three movements are highly characterful in their exploration of dance, ragtime and song, though the wistful slow movement is most evocative.