Caprices & Laments

A great combination of pieces, brilliantly performed with great understading

Caprices & Laments

It looks like Copland's Clarinet Concerto is like buses: you wait ages for one then two come at once. Not so long ago we interviewed conductor Richard Stamp around a disc that featured the Copland with Ernst Ottensamer as soloist, coupled with music by Richard Strauss.

Now we have Maximiliano Martín with the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra under Lucas Macias Navarro in a performance of the utmost command. Martín is Principal Clarinet with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and we can hear him introducing the Copland very eloquently here:

The performance with the Tenerife Orchestra is remarkable, and  an excellent complement to the Ottensamer/Stamp. Ottensamer's performance on Signum has an almost Mahlerian expansiveness. With Martín one feels a sense of Copland's mastery; and the Tenerife Orchestra is clearly a top-shelf ensemble. Martín and Navarro present a very "pure" Copland; in the first movement it is almost as if this is the finest distillation of the composer's language, while the cadenza in Martín's hands presents masterly, interior musings. Martín's sound is simply beautiful: liquid, burnished and warm with little to no harshness in the upper reaches. Here's an audio-only excerpt from the finale:

The revelations of this disc come with the Nielsen and the MacMillan, though. The Nielsen Concerto is one of the truly great clarinet concertos; Nielsen fans will recognise the characteristic foregrounding of the side-drum (in the Fifth Symphony it plays a vital role). Caprices and Laments is the perfect title for the disc as a whole; but one could even call it a descriptor for the Nielsen, in its mix of Mozartean transparency against clear emotional disturbance. This was Nielsen's last major orchestral work, and dates from 1931 - a mere three years before his death. Martín, Navarro and the Tenerife Orchestra offer one of the strongest, most compelling performances of this wonderful piece; a great performance.

But maybe this disc will introduce some to the wonderful, challenging world of Scottish composer James MacMillan. One of his most famous pieces is The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, a piece that positively bowled me over when I attended a weekend of MacMillan at the Barbican in 2005 (review). Here's the BBC Philharmonic under the composer:

MacMillan's music is brilliantly orchestrated and throughout his output unutterably powerful. The clarinet and strings piece Tuireadh (a Gaelic word which means 'lament' or 'requiem') represents a single-span outpouring of grief for the victims of the Piper Alpha oil rig fire disaster. Characteristic gestures, which the composer himself describes as "keening," are very much part of the vocabulary. I am including an alternative performance in this post for comparative purposes for those who purchase the disc: and I include this particular one for comparison  as it is is performed on clarinet and string quartet (also, the clarinettist is Robert Plane, who we met on Classical Explorer here):

James MacMillan: Tuireadh (version with string quartet)

Twilit music, appropriate of course for the transitional state of death itself. The keening sound is here inspired by a letter the composer received from a mourner lwho was taken by boat to a memorial; a boat that through the journey made such a 'keening' sound (and it is indeed with this very sound thet the work trails off into an uneasy silence). The string quartet version dates from 1991; the string orchestra version we hear on the Dephian disc  from 1995.

A great combination of pieces, brilliantly performed with great understanding, and the perfect complement to the Signum disc. As a label, Dephian offers some remarkable releases: previously, Classical Explorer covered the remarkable I and Silence; next week we will be featuring an interview with the composer Raymond Yiu, whose The World Was Once All Miracle has recently (February 12) been released on that label.