The Early Clarinet Family

Author: 
Stanley Sadie

The Early Clarinet Family

  • (5) Airs for Chalumeaux or Clarinets
  • Overture (Suite)
  • Suite for 3 Chalumeaux
  • (3) Duets, B flat
  • Sonata for Basset-horn and Piano (or Cello)

Eight different types of clarinet, from the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, are to be heard in this selection of early music for the instrument. It begins with a group of duets from about 1715, thought to be the first published music naming the instrument, played on a pair of C clarinets after instruments by its chief developer, J. C. Denner: simple pieces, written so that they could also be played on natural horns or trumpets—pairs of clarinets were in fact used in the eighteenth century, sometimes with horns, for serenading in the London pleasure gardens, and this is probably the sort of piece that was played. They are anonymous and totally undistingushed. The Handel overture, played on D clarinets after instruments of the mid-century, is of course a fine little piece, with musical ideas that he later developed in the so-called ''Arrival of the Queen of Sheba'' sinfonia in Solomon; it is done here with plenty of spirit, and with excellent horn playing too from Susan Dent.
The trio of chalumeaux, I have to say, I found at best unexciting: a rather lugubrious consistently middle-register sound, and music by Graupner that seems very short-breathed and with no sense of direction. Still, at least the movements are reasonably short. Then there is the 'Beethoven' duo for B flat clarinet, played on a French instrument of about 1790, with bassoon: it is one of a group of three nowadays more or less dismissed from the Beethoven canon, but there is a good deal about its style that seems plausible as a 'prentice work, and it is played here with a good deal of life. Lastly, the basset-horn sonata by Danzi, played on an instrument of about 1820, roughly the date of the work with a piano of the type Broadwood supplied to Beethoven. This proved remarkably enjoyable. The music may not be especially subtle, and it isn't profound, but it is brilliantly written for the piano with plenty of feeling to the melodies (which are often of an operatic cut: try the second subject of the first movement), while the central Larghetto has drama as well as much warmth of expression. Malcolm Martineau makes much of the piano part and has a real command of the idiom and the shape of the lines.
However, the CD is, of course, chiefly Keith Puddy's, and he shows himself to be a most accomplished player on these various instruments. Gone thank goodness, are the days when people supposed that all old instruments played out of tune: Puddy shows beyond doubt that musicians could be just as fastidious then as they are now, and he handles these various types with skill and extracts pleasing sounds from most of them. The CD has its duller moments, to be sure, but there are plenty of appealing ones too, and lovers of the clarinet will find considerable fascination in this dip into its history—the first, it seems, of a series planned by the Clarinet Classics label.'

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