Monday 17 December 2018

Clarinettist dedications - Roeland Hendrikx in three contrasting concertos for clarinet

Dedications - works for clarinet & orchestra - Roeland Hendrikx
Finzi, Mozart, Bruch works for clarinet & orchestra; Roeland Hendrikx, Sander Geerts, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins; Evil Penguin  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 December 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Three contrasting concertante works for clarinet, with Bruch's late Romantic double concerto being a delightful discovery

The relationship between composer and performer/dedicatee is the subject of this disc, on Evil Penguin, from Belgian clarinettist Roeland Hendrikx with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins. They play three concertos, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, Max Bruch's Double Concerto for Clarinet and Viola with Orchestra, Op. 88 (with viola player Sander Geerts) and Gerald Finzi's Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra Op. 31. Each concerto was written for a particular clarinettist with whom the composer had a strong relationship, Mozart and Anton Stadler, Max Bruch and his son Max Felix Bruch, Gerald Finzi and Frederick Thurston.

They open with Gerald Finzi's concerto, written to be played by Frederick Thurston (with Finzi conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra) at the 1949 Three Choirs Festival. Hendrikx has a particular connection with the concerto as Thurston's wife, the clarinettist Thea King, was Hendrikx's teacher and mentor and she bequeathed to him a group of letters between Finzi and Thurston which discuss the creation of the concerto; extracts from which are printed in the CD booklet.

The opening movement has a very mid-century style to it, yet there is also a rather modern quality to the playing with an elegant, strongly focused clarinet solo supported by a very strong orchestral presence. The speed is quite fast, but fluidly flowing. The slow movement emerges from nothing and is quite classical in style, certainly not over romanticised. And whilst there are clear hints of Finzi's teachers like RVW, you can also hear European musical influences too. The finale is a briskly flowing movement, beautifully insouciant.

Mozart's concerto was written for the foremost clarinet virtuoso of his day, Anton Stadler, and the concerto has rightly achieved iconic status. In fact, it probably started out as a concerto for basset horn, the first 199 bars are identical to a basset horn concerto Mozart started to write for Stadler in 1787. The final concerto was written not for the standard clarinet, but for the basset clarinet, an instrument invented by Stadler which has a few extra lower notes, though this manuscript has not survived and all performances are based on an early edition of the work adapted for the standard A clarinet.

Does this matter? Hendrikx argues not.

There are a few places where the loss of the lower notes entails awkwardness in the clarinet part, and you feel that Mozart himself might have created different solutions. But Hendrikx argues for playing it on a modern clarinet because this instrument is technically far advanced from the basset clarinet (lacking repertoire the instrument has not been technologically developed the way the modern clarinet has). Perhaps Hendrikx argument might be more convincing if his performance had a little more magic to it.

The opening movement, though musical, feels rather too steady and careful with a very solid orchestral accompaniment without any feeling of HIP style. That said, Hendrikx gives us some lovely singing line. This comes over even more in the slow movement (taken at quite a slow tempo), still with a feeling of steadiness by beautifully done. The last movement has some finely even tone from Hendrikx, with a beautiful straight line and rather a serious feel to it, yet I wanted a greater sense of character.

The final work on the disc is a real discovery, Max Bruch's 1912 Double Concerto for Clarinet and Viola which was written for his son. Max Felix. The concerto has failed to find a place in the repertoire the way that Bruch's 1866 Violin Concerto has, though Bruch's style has changed little between the two works. Perhaps that is the problem, by the time the double concerto was premiered it seemed rather old-fashionedly romantic. 1912 also saw the premiere of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire whilst Stravinsky's Rite of Spring would premiere just two years later.

The first movement opens with a dramatically rhapsodic section before the movement proper. This is full of lyrical melancholy, with the timbre of the two instruments contrasting yet both cast an Autumnal glow over the music. The central movement is faster, with a rather gipsy-ish cast to the writing. And we end with a movement where the swagger in the orchestra is answered by more elaborate instrumental writing. The piece is a complete delight, not overly taxing to the listener perhaps, but far more than just pleasing with a lovely late Romantic glow to the music.

Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) - Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra Op.31 (1949)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) - Concerto in A major for Clarinet and Orchestra KV 622 (1791)
Max Bruch (1838-1920) - Double Concerto for Clarinet and Viola with Orchestra Op.88 (1912)
Roeland Hendrikx (clarinet)
Sander Geerts (viola)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins (conductor)
Recorded at Henry Wood Hall, London, 7-9 April 2018
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
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  • Reviving Mozart in Wales & family connections in Milton Keynes: I chat to conductor Damian Iorio - my interview
  • Chocolate covered fairy-tale: Hänsel und Gretel at Covent Garden (★★★½) - opera review
  • Joyous discovery: Alessandro Scarlatti's Messa per il Santissimo Natale (★★★★)  - concert review
  • Powerful memorial: composer Andrew Smith on his Requiem dedicated to the victims of the 2011 Utøya massacre in Norway  - interview
  • Christmas in Leipzig: Solomon's Knot in Bach, Schelle & Kuhnau (★★★★) - concert review
  • Winter Fragments: Chamber music by Michael Berkeley (★★★½) - CD review
  • Intimate delight: 18th century chamber cantatas from Tim Mead, Louise Alder & Arcangelo - (★★★★½)  concert review
  • A new record label, a new disc: I chat to Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka about bel canto and more  - interview
  • French Collection: 18th century harpsichord music (★★★½) - CD review
  • Truly scrumptious: the choir of St George's Chapel, Windsor in music for Advent (★★★★) - concert review
  • Late-Edwardian fairytale: Stanford's The Travelling Companion  (★★★★) - opera review
  • Profoundly beautiful: Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera  (★★★★) - opera review
  • Last Man Standing: Cheryl Frances-Hoad premiere at the Barbican  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Home

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