March Madness

March will be chock-a-block with superb new Clarke recordings, one of them more than 30 years in the making.

LAWO Classics leads off with The Artist’s Secret, an absolutely fascinating recital by mezzo Bettina Smith and pianist Jan Willem Nelleke that features an unusual selection of Clarke’s songs—Infant Joy, June Twilight, and Eight O’Clock—along with pieces by Anna Cramer, Henriëtte Bosmans, Borghild Holmsen, Cecile Chaminade, Marguerite Canal, Poldowski, Lili Boulanger, and Luise Greger. The three Clarke pieces form a well-nigh perfect microcosm of her vocal-solo writing, with an unexpected but absolutely convincing bit of Sprechstimme in Eight O’Clock. The whole program is rich and challenging, and if you haven’t caught up with Poldowski or Bosmans, what’s keeping you? European release and worldwide download is set for February 26, with the CD available in the Western Hemisphere on April 9.

On March 12, Divine Art releases an album of twentieth- and twenty-first-century pieces for clarinet and strings, performed by the British chamber-ensemble Gemini and its director, clarinetist Ian Mitchell. The story of how this project progressed since Ian discovered Clarke’s Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale in 1989 is best told by Ian himself, in the album’s lavish and highly entertaining booklet. Suffice it to say that this performance of the piece, which also features violist Yuko Inoue on a thrillingly equal basis, is one of the best ever. As an added bonus, the booklet includes the first accurate transcription of Clarke’s handwritten de-facto program-note—an important contribution to the literature, since this was one of the few times in Clarke’s life when she explained so much as a note of her music. Readers who have been searching in vain for that “long fugato section” in the Allegro will be relieved to learn that Clarke actually wrote “tiny”—crystal-clear, right down to the crossed T and the dotted I. You can pre-order here or here.

On March 19, King’s College, Cambridge, releases Proud Songsters, a survey of English solo song performed by a knockout roster of singers (Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo, Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andrew Staples, Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches, and Mark Stone) and Simon Lepper, one of the world’s preëminent collaborative pianists—all of whom are King’s alumni. For Clarke aficionados, the pièce de résistance is Gilchrist’s tender, propulsive, emotionally specific account of The Seal Man, nearly half-a-minute faster than his previous recording, and hair-raisingly the better for it. With Britten’s Down by the Salley Gardens (Mead), Warlock’s Sleep (Stone), and Iain Bell’s riff on “Come away, death” (Zazzo), there are interesting comparisons to be made with Clarke’s settings of the same texts, for solo voice, vocal duet, and chorus, respectively. Stephen Banfield’s booklet-essay is a useful corrective for anyone who suffers from any lingering delusion that nineteenth- or early twentieth-century English song was some sort of hothouse-flower tended by sad maidens in darkened parlors with doors tight-shut, rather than what it was—a massive industry with a large, active market. You can pre-order here or here.

And more on the way. Clear your shelves.

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