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Clarinet Quintet in G minor


Frederick J (‘Jack’) Thurston, to whom, jointly with the Griller Quartet, my Clarinet Quintet is dedicated, was a fellow-student at the Royal College of Music and became famous in later years for the musical and technical excellence of his clarinet playing. While still a student he gave remarkable performances of concertos and chamber music, including Stanford’s concerto which is a formidably virtuoso work. I was studying composition with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at that time and I remember how delighted he was with the young player’s interpretation of his work.

It can be imagined with what pleasure I accepted an invitation to write a quintet for Jack and the celebrated ‘Grillers’. The first performance was given during World War Two in London’s Wigmore Hall. Jack’s tragically early death deprived the world of one of its most gifted clarinettists and it is to me a source of deep satisfaction that his brilliant ex-pupil (and widow), Thea King, has made this recording.

The quintet is in four movements:

I: ‘Tempo moderato’: the principal theme, played by the clarinet at the opening, owes its ‘autumnal’ character to the use of the ascending form of the melodic minor scale in both rising and falling phrases. The second subject maintains the same kind of atmosphere and the effect of the movement as a whole is not melancholy but is quiet and contemplative.

II: Because of the need for complete contrast the scherzo is placed here. It is largely founded on the energetic rhythm hammered out by the strings at outset, and there is a sense of urgency and bustle which is only dispersed when the ‘trio’ is reached and the music becomes quiet and peaceful. With the return of the scherzo material, further energetic treatment is given to it, but the brief coda harps back to the ‘trio’ and there is a quiet ending.

III: The slow movement, marked ‘Poco lento’, is rhapsodic and free in form, though based on and developed from clearly defined themes, phrases and harmonic progressions. I was here aiming at disclosing the expressive eloquence inherent in this richly evocative medium.

IV: ‘Introduction, Theme and Variations’. The Introduction starts in the key and with the melodic phrase with which the slow movement ends, but the clarinet gently leads the strings into the key and mood of the Theme which, like the first movement’s subject, is derived from the ascending form of the melodic minor scale. The Variations do not all follow the lead of the theme in his respect. There are five in all and they include a march and one in which the lowest notes of the clarinet are combined with those of the lower strings and refuse to be coerced into upper regions by the high notes of the violins. The last variation is, to some extent, fugal in texture, and vivacious in character, but suddenly becomes hushed right at the end, to finish with two quiet pizzicato chords. Perhaps some slightly jazzy rhythms will be detected in this extended final variation.

from notes by Gordon Jacob © 1981


Jacob & Somervell: Clarinet Quintets
CDH55110Archive Service


Movement 1: Tempo moderato
Movement 2: Allegro con brio
Movement 3: Rhapsody: Poco lento
Movement 4: Introduction, theme and variations

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