Here is an interesting disc that explores an odd and not easily explained phenomenon--why was the clarinet such a popular instrument among 20th century English composers?
Besides the concertos on this disc, there are interesting and memorable concertos by Malcolm Arnold, Iain Hamilton, Gerald Finzi, Alun Hoddinott among others, not to mention the bevy of chamber pieces including clarinent by people ranging from Bax to Frankel. One answer may have been that there were outgoing clarinettists like Jack Thurston who sought to extend the repertoire for their instrument. Another was Thurston's wife, Thea King who performs here.
Whatever the case, none of the three concertos on this disc would be unwelcome should they show up on the occasional concert programme. All were written for clarinent and string orchestra and contain memorable themes. None strays very far into chromaticism, let alone atonality, so they aren't difficult listening.
The most easily assimilable piece here is Gordon Jacob's Mini-concerto (named as such to differentiate it from a Clarinet concertino he wrote based on themes by Tartini. It contains four short movements bursting with jolly tunes and ending with a quick finger-twisting tarantella.
The deepest piece here is Alan Rawsthorne's essay which borrows something of Hindemith's harmonic world without the occasional academic sound that mars some of that German composer's work. There are some chromatic musings here and there as the clarinet wanders through a semi-lit landscape. I'm not sure I "get" what Rawsthorne is trying to tell me, but it's a fascinating piece that draws me back to is.
Arnold Cooke's concerto is the most conventional of those here. Written in the traditional three movements with a harmonic palette that also borrows from Hindemith--though to a lesser extent than Rawsthorne--it's a fine piece built around attractive melodic content which sticks in the ear. Listen for the blackbird's call in the slow movement...a nice touch.
Ms. King plays these pieces extremely well and is ably abetted by Alun Francis who seems to have a VERY diverse repertoire. Hyperion's sound and notes are up to their high standards. A wonderful release for the adventurous.