MOZART; PHIBBS Clarinet Concertos (van de Wiel)
Mark van de Wiel is principal clarinettist of the Philharmonia but here he steps out of his usual seat to become soloist in a new work composed for him. The Clarinet Concerto by Joseph Phibbs (b1974) is an attractive, well-argued work, demonstrating not only Phibbs’s knowledge of clarinet technique and masterly control of orchestral forces but also the versatility and virtuosity of its dedicatee. The language is modern tonal, the rhythmic profile strong and clear. There’s a feeling of nocturnal tension as the expectant opening gives way to more athletic figures – rather like an updated West Side Story, perhaps, although I fancy more contemporary American music was influential in some of the post-minimalist styles of the work’s central panel. The repertoire is hardly bursting at the seams with 21st-century clarinet (or, frankly, any woodwind) concertos, so this is a valuable addition.
The performance, too, is top-notch. The Philharmonia play this new work as if it were an old friend, and the sound as caught in Henry Wood Hall has an inviting glow, illuminating the work’s meditative opening and the vocalise of the third-movement Adagio as well as the sparkling acrobatics of the finale.
Mozart’s Concerto here comes from a live performance at Cadogan Hall. Van de Wiel swaps his standard instrument for a basset clarinet – for which the work was originally conceived – with its extended range that allowed Mozart to explore the lower chalumeau register that so preoccupied him in his late music. The London Chamber Orchestra can’t quite match the lustre of the Philharmonia and some coordination between solo and tutti teeters at the edge. Van de Wiel’s playing, though, always displays his customary assurance of technique and tone, even if certain noises associated with the physicality of woodwind-playing are betrayed by the microphones. The Mozart (with concluding applause) is never less than pleasant; the Phibbs, however, is essential.