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Copland and Finzi Clarinet Concertos

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Catalogue No: SOMMCD 244
Release Date: 02/01/2010
Number of Discs: 1
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Liner Notes
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Soon after Copland composed his Third Symphony, jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman, who was keen to become acceptable to the music establishment commissioned him, in 1947,  to write a clarinet concerto. The concerto has strong jazz elements and as part of his quest to find a suitable 20th century language for his compositions, Copland had deliberately explored jazz rhythms and colours in some of his compositions of the 1920s, feeling that his work up to that point had been too European.

Sarah Williamson – Clarinet
The Orchestra Of The Swan

David Curtis – Conductor

He had studied with Goldmark in New York and Nadia Boulanger in Paris. But had later dropped the jazz emphasis in favour of a more generally American style which one indeed comes across in Appalachian Spring, which is also part of this CD.

However  when Goodman’s commission arrived Copland dug deep into jazz again. The Concerto has 3 movements and after a brilliant clarinet cadenza, which links us to the exuberance of the finale, rather fast, with a jazzy downtown piano joining the strings. Ironically it was this movement which caused Goodman to keep postponing the work’s premiere unti Copland called his bluff by arranging for someone else to play it in Philadelphia. So at last the clarinetist grasped the nettle, and gave the concerto its world premiere in November 1950 with Fritz Reiner  conducting the NBC Symphony of the Air.

Gerald Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto was premiered by Thurston at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford Cathedral in 1949, with the strings of  the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer himself.  The concerto breathes a typical Finzian melancholy and visionariness. Piquantly, both Finzi and Thurston died very young, and almost in parallel.

The clarinet (this time an orchestral principal) features prominently in Appalachian Spring, considered by many to be Copland’s masterpiece, and one in which he triumphantly asserts his command of the American “musical vernacular”. It depicts a quiet farmhouse in Pennsylvania in the early years of the 19th century, where a young pioneer couple are preparing for their marriage.

This is the setting for the ballet, composed in 1944 to a commission from the wealthy arts patroness Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, and choreographed by Martha Graham. Its original orchestration was for 13 instruments as in this recording, but Copland later arranged a suite for full orchestra. Described by Leonard Bernstein as a work of “bittersweet tenderness”, the composition paints a wonderfully moving picture of hope, aspiration and uncomplicated faith as the couple set out on their life’s journey together. The piece famously enshrines an extended treatment of the well-known Shaker melody “Simple Gifts”.

Sarah Williamson was a finalist in the BBC Young Musician competition 2002 with a highly individual performance of the Copland Clarinet Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Davis. She then went on to win second prize in the Eurovision competition for Young Musicians in Berlin, again with the Copland. After she graduated with a premier Prix from Le Conservatoire Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris she quickly went on to establish her career both in the UK and USA, Ireland and Europe. Since then Sarah has performed at festivals across the UK and all the major London venues. She has toured the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, the USA, Ireland and Spain among others with current highlights including concerts in Japan and Cyprus.

The Orchestra of the Swan under Artistic Director David Curtis has achieved national recognition for outstanding performances, innovative programming and a highly accessible style of presentation with pre-concert talks, introductions from the podium and post concert ‘conversation club’.

The Orchestra is a major champion of new music, commissioning more new work than almost any other chamber orchestra in the UK, including new works from leading composers such as John Woolrich, Tansy Daview, Joe Duddell, Paul Patterson, Alexander Goehr and John Joubert among others.

The Orchestra is Resident Orchestra at Town Hall Birmingham and the Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon. It also performs at major concert venues and festivals ncluding Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Warwick Arts Centre, St. John’s, Smith Square and Cadogan Hall, London.

On This Recording

  1. Clarinet Concerto: I. Slowly and expressively –
  2. Clarinet Concerto: I. Cadenza
  3. Clarinet Concerto: II. Rather fast
  4. Romance: Romance in E-Flat Major, Op. 11
  5. Clarinet Concerto: I. Allegro vigoroso
  6. Clarinet Concerto: II. Adagio, ma senza rigore
  7. Clarinet Concerto: III. Rondo: Allegro giocoso
  8. Appalachian Spring: I. Very slowly
  9. Appalachian Spring: II. Fast
  10. Appalachian Spring: III. Moderato
  11. Appalachian Spring: IV. Fast
  12. Appalachian Spring: V. Still faster
  13. Appalachian Spring: VI. As at first (slowly)
  14. Appalachian Spring: VII. Calm and flowing
  15. Appalachian Spring: VIII. Coda: Moderato