Musical Opinion

Wilfred Josephs, who died almost unnoticed five years ago, can hardly be described as one of Britain’s foremost post-war composers, but, along with many others, he provided a context in which the more celebrated exponents could flourish. Josephs was a supreme craftsman. His versatility enabled him to write in every conceivable genre,including opera, as well as for television and the cinema. Accordingly, he had a wide range of styles at his command.
Josephs learned serial technique from his principal teacher, Max Deutsch, but spent the rest of his career adapting it to his tonal sensibility. Thus, the starting point for his three clarinet works were the equivalent pieces by Brahms, and, as with Brahms, Josephs was drawn to the clarinet towards the end of his career. However, Josephs’ Clarinet Quintet and two Sonatas do not have the intensity of their Brahmsian counterparts. The Quintet is the most ambitious and the most serious of the three, occupying roughly half the playingtime. Ultimately, it is also the most rewarding. The Sonatas should not be discounted however. They undoubtedly have their moments, not least in displaying the lighter side of Josephs’ personality. One or two of the more mercurial movements are even reminiscent of Malcolm Arnold. This disc will not appeal to, and may even annoy devotees of new music. Nevertheless, it may well find favour with more tentative souls, seeking gentler ways of extending their knowledge beyond the standard repertoire. This was, after all, the purpose of much of Josephs’ output.

—Denby Richards