The Clarinet

The English clarinetists Elizabeth Jordan and Lynsey Marsh had an unusual motivation for producing this two-disc set: each woman experienced the death of a parent in 2014 due to complications related to Parkinson’s disease. Beginning with a concert to raise money for a charitable organization called Parkinson’s U.K., the idea expanded to include a studio recording. Most of the works in the set have some connection, through their composers, to neurodegenerative diseases, and all proceeds from the sale of the recording will be donated to Parkinson’s charities.

Some readers of The Clarinet may not be familiar with the featured performers on this recording. Both have been associated with orchestras in and around Manchester. Elizabeth Jordan is principal clarinetist with the Northern Chamber Orchestra and has also played as guest principal with other important English orchestras. Lynsey Marsh served as principal clarinet with the Hallé Orchestra between 2001 and 2015, and has numerous recordings to her credit.

The liner notes for this recording explain why these particular composers have been chosen for inclusion. It is well-known that Mendelssohn died tragically young, but apparently the “Nervenschlag” that killed him is now believed to have been a type of brain hemorrhage that is sometimes associated with Parkinson’s. One might wonder if the world needs another recording of either of the Mendelssohn Concert Pieces, but certainly the performance given here of the F major (with Marsh on clarinet and Jordan on basset horn) is a fine one. Marsh conducts, as well as performing.

Of more interest, at least to this reviewer, is the other repertoire in the set. The Strauss Sonatina “From an Invalid’s Workshop,” has received a number of recordings over the years but is nevertheless relatively little played, which is a shame – it’s a wonderful work. Strauss was ill when he wrote the piece (hence the subtitle), but his malady had nothing to do with anything neurological, so the connection with the theme of the disc is absent in this case. No matter. This performance by the wind personnel of the Northern Chamber Orchestra (with Jordan on C clarinet and Marsh on B-flat/A, along with three other colleagues in the clarinet section) is beautifully shaped by conductor Stephen Barlow. The ensemble plays with impeccable intonation and great expression.

John Adams’s Gnarly Buttons, premiered in 1996, has received relatively few recordings since that time, and Elizabeth Jordan’s is a welcome addition to the discography. Here the connection with the theme of the disc is apparent; Adams’s father, a clarinetist, died of Alzheimer’s disease, and the work was at least partly a reaction by the composer to that event. Jordan’s performance is excellent. She plays with a consistently warm tone, and has complete command of the stylistic idiom and technical difficulties of the work.

The final piece on the recording, The Last Memory by Kevin Malone, is for solo clarinet and digital delay. Like Adams, Malone witnessed his father’s decline due to Alzheimer’s, writing this work in response. Both the piece and Lynsey Marsh’s performance of it are very effective. All in all this CD is worth purchasing not only for the repertoire and performances, but also because it raises awareness of (and money for) an important cause.

—Jane Ellsworth