Airwaves clarinet MPR117

From the Airwaves
John Bradbury (clarinet)
Ian Buckle (piano)
rec. May 2022, Pamoja Hall, The Space, Sevenoaks School, UK
MPR 117 [72]

Clarinettist John Bradbury has long been an active exponent of British music for his instrument and the most well-known of his recordings remains one for Naxos (review) – there’s no repertoire overlap with this MPR release – though he has also recorded the chamber music of Percy Miles Hilder for MPR and Stephen Dodgson for Dutton.

In this disc, with its very attractive popular livery and period-aware bill of fare, we have another contribution, this time accompanied by pianist Ian Buckle. It’s yet another product of lockdown research, this time into the BBC’s Radio Times programmes of the 1920s and 30s. The two major works are the sonatas of John Ireland and Ruth Gipps around which, like so many moths, flutter the genre pieces of a plethora of other composers, some well-known, others much less so. The Ireland Fantasy-Sonata is probably the most completely satisfying example in the British repertoire, a compact work composed in 1943 and dedicated to Frederick Thurston, whose broadcast recording of it, with Ireland in 1948, is the most essential of any. Bradbury is an adroit tonalist and his partnership with Buckle, who takes on his own share of complexity, is admirable though I find the performance just a little on the slow side.

The music of Ruth Gipps has been making inroads over the last few years. Her Sonata of 1954 won the Cobbett Prize and was written for her clarinet-playing husband Robert Baker. Peter Cigleris (clarinet) and Duncan Honeybourne (piano) have recorded it on an all-Gipps disc for Somm (review). It’s a good example of the genre, colourful and healthy and laid out in four conventionally-titled movements. There are some neo-classical elements, and an easy-going confidence in the slow movement, in particular – traditional, not especially distinctive – which is followed by a tinge of folklore in the scherzo. The finale owes distinctly more to Vaughan Williams, with renewed folkloric infusions and a spirited fresh ending. This is a fine performance of an attractive though, as noted, hardly very distinctive work.

The remainder of the programme offers genre or ‘character’ charmers. Adam Carse’s unpretentious lyricism is followed by Harold Samuel’s Three Light Pieces. Samuel, the heavyweight Bach exponent, offers easy-going fare though it’s hard to know what else to say about them other than they’re finely crafted. Bradbury has recorded Edward German before in his Naxos disc though not the Andante and Tarantella, the late Victorian elegance of which doesn’t escape the suspicion of the antimacassar and potted palm. It was dedicated to the leading native clarinettist of the time, Henry Lazarus. It was premiered in 1892 and Lazarus died in 1895, so it’s doubtful Lazarus actually gave the first performance as he was then 78.

Edith Swepstone was known largely for her songs though she’s an obscure figure these days and represented here by her brief and wistfully shaded Une Larme. Frederick Kell was the father of Reginald and his four little pieces offer variously boldly contoured moods – whether more or less melancholy or wistful or engaging – all cast in a Light Programme vein. Finally, there’s Frederic Curzon’s Clarinetto con moto, the third movement of his Salon Suite, an engaging two minutes of knowing fluff with which to end.

The two sonatas offer ballast to the light pieces which are of their time and serve their purpose. They don’t claim anything other than to entertain and they do that proficiently and attractively. Kate Romano’s notes are nicely written and the booklet is, as already noted, fully supportive of the thematic nature of this well-balanced and finely recorded disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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Adam Carse (1878-1958)
Reverie (1931)
Happy Tune (1931)
Harold Samuel (1879-1937)
Three Light Pieces (1913)
Ruth Gipps (1921-1999)
Clarinet Sonata in A, Op.45 (1954)
Edward German (1862-1936)
Andante and Tarantella (1892)
Edith Swepstone (1862-1942)
Une Larme (c.1884)
John Ireland (1879-1962)
Fantasy-Sonata (1943)
Frederick Kell (1851-1950)
Four Clarinet Solos (1933)
Frederic Curzon (1899-1973)
Salon Suite; movement III Clarinetto con moto (undated)