All proceeds from this collection go to a worthy cause, Parkinson’s UK, but this is much more than a merely worthy addition to the recorded repertoire. It is a fine collection of works, admirably performed, and of pieces imaginatively chosen and too rarely performed.
The recording is the follow-up to a concert performed in April 2016 to raise funds for Parkinson’s UK. Both soloists had lost a parent to complications of Parkinson’s Disease. The connecting thread is degenerative mental illness. Adams’ Gnarly Buttons seems to have been the starting point as Elizabeth Jordan was involved at the time in a performance of this piece, inspired by Adams’ father, a clarinettist who performed in a local marching band and suffered from Alzheimer’s towards the end of his life. The scoring is unusual, including sampled sounds, banjo, mandolin and strings. It is an interesting piece – in its variety of inspirations, from Benny Goodman to Protestant hymn tunes and Hoedown, firmly in the tradition of Ives, but with some lovely simple passages. I shall play it often.
Kevin Malone’s piece is technically more complex – the clarinettist plays into a microphone, which connects to a delay unit repeating each note 12 times through a loudspeaker. The idea is that both player and audience are caught in loops just as the composer’s father had been through Alzheimer’s. The piece works on several levels, not all of which I have yet explored, but the journey is worthwhile.
Perhaps the highlight is the performance of Strauss’ Sonatina for 16 wind instruments, in three movements. The piece was written during the Second World War after a bout of flu and its consequent depression, depths compounded by the destruction of the Munich Court Theatre, something which he described as leaving him without consolation or hope. But the music does not lose itself in gloom, despite dark moments. An interesting feature is the weight given by using a large complement of members of the clarinet family – two regular clarinets in B flat and A, a bass clarinet, a clarinet and C and a basset-horn. This is a substantial work here given a thoughtful and characterful performance.
The Mendelssohn which opens the collection is a less substantial work, though very charming, composed in his later years. Apparently, it was written during a visit to Bavaria in return for the clarinettists Heinrich and Carl Baermann providing his favourite meal of Dampfnudel and Rahmstrudel. Not the healthiest combination – but a delightful one! The work itself is light and very charming.
Performances throughout impress. Stephen Barlow and the Northern Chamber Orchestra are on excellent form (Lynsey Marsh directs for just the Mendelssohn) and the collection will give enormous pleasure.
Buy it – and not just for the good cause. The two discs sell for the price of one.