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Cantilena for clarinet and orchestra 'Poem', Op 51


The first performance took place on 12 July, 1930, at a private concert in Folkestone which included the Phantasy Quartet by Imogen Holst. The soloist for this premier performance with piano was Reginald Kell. No mention is made of the pianist, though it can be safe to assume that it was the composer. A review from 26 July remarks that 'Susan Spain-Dunk’s work was far ahead of all the others, both musically and technically'.

It was not until later in December of 1931 that Cantilena (later called Poem) was to be heard as Susan had intended. The concert took place on the 5th of that month at the Queen’s Hall in London and was conducted by John Barbirolli. The concert was organised by Trinity College of Music—then situated on Marylebone High Street—and performed by its students, and the soloist was no exception; the clarinettist in question was a Herbert New, studying with Charles Draper. According to N Porteous of the Folkestone Herald: 'Miss Spain-Dunk’s concerto for clarinet and orchestra was warmly received by a large audience.'

Earlier in 1931 Susan was fortunate to be invited by the BBC Selection Committee to submit Poem for consideration. We know that Poem was broadcast from London in early April of 1932 with Fredrick Thurston as soloist. The work received many ‘repeats’ with the final broadcast in 1957 being heard by Susan’s son, Revd Alan Henry Gibson, while posted in Malaya.

Poem is a charming single movement work in a modified sonata form. Beginning with a solo harp introduction the orchestra state a rather impassioned germinal motive with chromaticism reminiscent of Delius. The solo clarinet enters with a searching ‘quasicadenza’ and leads the orchestra to the main theme in D minor. After a little musical tussle between orchestra and soloist both land in the tonic major for a second theme which moves through to a quicker section with material from the opening. Some virtuosic moments from the soloist bring us back to a recapitulation with the opening solo ‘quasicadenza’ extended. The work concludes with a coda that feels as though the sun has finally come through the dark clouds of D minor ultimately landing in the relative major of F.

from notes by Peter Cigleris © 2021


Rediscovered - British Clarinet Concertos
SIGCD656Download only Available Friday 26 March 2021


Track 1 on SIGCD656 [11'32] Download only Available Friday 26 March 2021

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD656 track 1

Recording date
30 November 2019
Recording venue
BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales
Recording producer
Michael Ponder
Recording engineer
Mike Hatch & Mike Cox
Hyperion usage
  1. Rediscovered - British Clarinet Concertos (SIGCD656)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: 26 March 2021
    Download only Available Friday 26 March 2021
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