The opening bars of the Mozart (placed second) tell that Mike Hatch’s engineering is top-notch, the orchestral sound clear and airy, and if Mark van de Wiel’s basset clarinet is perhaps a shade too forward in the balance, his playing is consistently shapely and mellifluous. In short, this is a very fine account of a perennial favourite, with tempos always well-chosen for articulate and bouncy music-making, the soloist enjoying a meaningful relationship with the London Chamber Orchestra and Christopher Warren-Green, searching the music when required, not least in the here-blossoming slow movement, for which the extended-downwards range of the basset pays dividends, and with a Finale that is pointed and playful (with a few smile-inducing extra notes from van de Wiel), leaning more to Jack Brymer than Benny Goodman. It’s a live performance with no audience apparent … thus the retained applause is startling.
Joseph Phibbs’s Clarinet Concerto is new, 2017, and is gratifyingly taken into the studio so soon. Phibbs (born 1974), writing especially for van de Wiel, has created a four-movement work of considerable appeal. A lyrical opening might be heard as dawn breaking, with some enchanted chords suggesting glints of sunrise, before a slinky dance emerges (as if Malcolm Arnold had visited America wearing a blue suit). An elaborate if integrated cadenza introduces the second movement, energetic and spiky, growing wilder, and with many rhythmic sleights of hand and orchestral colours. The mood changes dramatically to an Adagio that laments, a poignant nocturne that rises in pitch and intensity … and then straight into the exhilarating Finale, all bright lights and mercurial changes, bursting momentously at times, sure of its gold-medal finish to complete an impressive opus, and well-worth a lap of honour.
Once again Warren-Green conducts with attention to detail (he is a former concertmaster of the Philharmonia Orchestra) and van de Wiel’s colleagues offer complete support to the unflagging clarinettist, Hatch again capturing the distinction of the music and this performance.