Caprices and Laments
Maximiliano Martin/Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife/Navarro
The centrefold of the booklet that accompanies this fine new disc of clarinet concertos features one of the most eloquent orchestra publicity pictures you’ll see. With their trousers rolled and hemlines skimming the water’s surface, the shoe-less orchestra of the Canary Islands, in full evening dress, are assembled around a pair of timpani, a line of white surf lapping at their ankles and the famous black sand of Tenerife between their toes. It is an image that immediately makes you want to know what these game musicians sound like. The additional knowledge that they were recorded by the Delphian team in the stunning Auditorio de Tenerife designed by Santiago Calatrava should only further whet the appetite.
The good news is that they are very good indeed. An internationally-recruited outfit, there is a crisp freshness to their string sound, the section that makes up all bar seven players on the disc. The featured soloist is local lad Maximiliano Martin, long-standing principal clarinet of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and stalwart of the SCO’s current programme of digital concerts featuring smaller groups.
For all that this is Martin’s disc, his countrymen are by no means a mere backing track, given the robust repertoire he has chosen to showcase his own virtuosity. The concertos by Copland and Nielsen and James MacMillan’s one-movement Tuireadh are contrasting works, but each has fine scoring for the strings, not excepting the MacMillan, which began life as a work for clarinet and string quartet. Conductor Lucas Macias Navarro is himself a wind player, with the benefit to his role here of having played oboe in concerts and recordings directed by Claudio Abbado, and his feel for the balance between soloist and strings is surely crucial to this album’s success.
Composed as a memorial to the 167 lives lost in the 1988 fire on the Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea, Tuireadh is always a harrowing listen, with its borrowings from laments in Scottish traditional music and raw vocal keening. Placed last in this sequence, it is one of the few works that could follow the already troubled late work by Carl Nielsen, the character of which is said to come less from its composer than from Nielsen’s dedicatee, the clarinettist of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, Aage Oxenvad. With no reference recording in existence, Martin creates an image of this turbulent chap, in particular partnership with the snare drum of Juan Antonio Minana, that is a portrait in sound.
Aaron Copland’s concerto was written 20 years later for Benny Goodman, who reportedly – and slightly incredibly – found the score more challenging than he had bargained for. It is a sparkling jazzy opener on this disc, and another illustration of Martin’s command of a range of voices on his instrument, recently demonstrated in the SCO’s excellent performance of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale.