Works for Clarinet and Orchestra
Critics ought to sympathize with conservative composers: they share a similar struggle to keep cliche at bay. Really fresh compositions in a traditional tonal idiom could well be even more rare than completely cliche-free reviews: and Howard Blake's idiom is very traditional indeed. The problem I have with it is not that it evokes particular precedents without matching their power, it might well be better if stronger models were more clearly in evidence. As it is, however, Blake's Clarinet Concerto is an exercise in what, by the standards of his lighter music, sounds a surprisingly neutral neo-romanticism. For a work of this length—more than 21 minutes—the textures are too uniform, and there are some awkward structural joins. Nor does the performance sparkle as it might. Thea King, who commissioned the Concerto, is incapable of playing a dull phrase, but the fact that this recording was made around the time of the public premiere may help to explain the general impression of earnestness when a more relaxed, throwaway mood is called for.
This disc can't be said to explore the wilder shores of modern clarinet music, and something more astringent than one of the other items would have provided salutary fibre. Matyas Seiber was a very good composer, but his Concertino is an early work, and the outer movements are too genially neo-classical for their own good, lapsing into labouring the obvious. These artists play it for more than it's worth, Thea King finding a touching pathos in the central movement to offset the perkiness elsewhere. Lutoslawski's Dance Preludes are another relatively early effort, but blessedly economical and unpretentious in this company. Eduard Brunner, on his Philips recording with the composer conducting, produces a drier sound and a rather lighter touch, but Thea King is no less responsive to the music's clearly focused shifts of mood. The Philips sound is in general less robust and forward than this new Hyperion, which on CD seems almost too fierce in character.'