Supported by generous help from the Turnovsky Endowment Trust

Campbell’s clarinet in music from his home

By , 07/02/2011

‘Three Faces of Ebony’

Brahms: Clarinet Sonata in F minor, Op 120 No 1; Timothy Corlis: Raven and the First Man; Allan Gilliland: Suite from the Sound – ‘Parry’s Ground’; David Baker: Dance (1989); Copland: At the River; Srul Glick: The Klezmer’s Wedding (1996)


James Campbell (clarinet), Richard Mapp (piano), New Zealand String Quartet


Nelson School of Music, Monday 7 February 1pm


This lunchtime concert was a showcase for clarinettist James Campbell. In contrast with his problematic work in a Mozart Quintet on Sunday, this was an unmitigated triumph. Apart from the opening sonata by Brahms, and the folk-song arrangement by Copland, the music was unknown, yet it was all approachable and highly entertaining. Not only was it a showcase for Campbell the performer, but it was also a tribute to some of his composer friends in North America and a mark of mutual esteem.


First, the Brahms: one of his last works, written after being inspired by the beautiful playing of the principal clarinettist in the Meiningen Orchestra, Richard Mühlfeld. James Campbell called it one of the greatest clarinet sonatas (the other being Brahms’s second sonata), and he and pianist Richard Mapp offered convincing proof through their wonderful partnership, both demonstrating the same approach to the music. They responded assuredly to the music and to each other, emerging as sturdy and refined Brahms interpreters. The third movement, in slow triple time, is a gorgeous piece, and they played it as if life would go on for ever, and we wished that the music would do just that. And the last movement, sanguine and contented, proved a perfect vehicle to demonstrate the two players’ accord and their sense of scale.


The rest of the concert was given to compositions by Campbell’s friends and colleagues. If the character of the music was any guide, he has acquired friends of rare congeniality and humour. Timothy Corlis’s Raven and the First Men, written last year, was a clarinet quintet, with which the New Zealand String Quartet joined. His piece takes its name from a sculpture in the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology, echoing a legend that describes how a raven opened a clam shell to find little men hiding inside – the first human beings. There was no need to seek detailed connections between music and legend for the music stood on its own firm and adroit feet, employing the clarinet against pizzicato strings with great rhythmic interest, later an agitated section with tremolo strings; sun-lit, lyrical, human; and then an engaging accumulation sounds over in John Adams-like ostinati. I thought it was surprisng music from a country with much more severe weather than New Zealand experiences.


Allan Gilliland wrote a Suite from the Sound (the Parry Sound Festival) for James Campbell and the St Lawrence String Quartet; the quintet played the first movement of it, ‘Parry’s Ground’. It was jazzy, and sunny, with writing for clarinet that recalled the jazz styles of the 50s and 60s. And it offered the chance to hear the NZSQ in a happy, relaxed, idiomatic jazz mode, in delightful accord with the clarinettist.

Dance was a piece for clarinet and piano, the last movement of a sonata that the programme notes said had become a staple of the clarinet repertoire in the United States. I can well believe that, judging by its ebullient, happy nature with its mix of Latin and various jazz styles, from Scott Joplin on. Mapp proved a natural as the partner.


Aaron Copland’s piece from one of his sets of folk song arrangements began in a calm mood with an unclichéd accompaniment, providing a warmly comforting interlude. The recital ended with a piece by Srul Glick, The Klezmer’s wedding: gypsyish, popular, with an improvised feeling, boisterous, with Campbell delighting in the opportunity to use a wide variety of devices that would be impolite in ‘classical’ society.


I never discovered what the title of the concert meant, unless it was that three of the composers Campbell played were African-Americans. The programme notes did not reveal it.


A delightful start to the week’s concerts.

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