Clarinetist Frederick Thurston in BRAHMS: Clarinet Quintet, Clarinet Sonata No. 2; BLISS: Clarinet Quintet (Testament)

by | Jun 2, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS: Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115; Clarinet Sonata No. 2 in E-flat Major, Op. 120, No. 2; BLISS: Clarinet Quintet

Frederick Thurston, clarinet/Griller Quartet/Myers Foggin, piano
Testament SBT 1366  77:10  (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:

These performances by clarinet virtuoso Frederick Thurston (1901-1953)
of the BBC Symphony Orchestra would, one would have thought, belonged
on Michael Dutton’s label; but their appearance on Testament, courtesy
of the quiet transfers of Roger Beardsley, is no disappointment. The 15
May 1941 Brahms Clarinet Quintet is quite literal in approach, even to
keeping the opening Allegro introduction up to full speed from the
outset, and not treating the first bars as a gradual accelerando. The
Griller Quartet (1931-1963), for whom Ernest Bloch composed his last
four quartets, had a reputation for rhythmic impetus and clean,
articulated musical lines. The setting for the last two movements of
the Brahms is brisk and evenly flowing, and the quality of Thurston’s
dark, chalumeau register is liquid and earthy. Thurston, by  the
way, recorded the Quintet two days after having inscribed for Decca the
F Minor Brahms Sonata with Kathleen Long, a performance that has never
been released.

Thurston has a long association with Britain’s clarinet repertory,
having played the Stanford Concerto as early as 1920, and later giving
the premier of the Arthur Bliss Clarinet Quintet (1931) with the
Kutcher Quartet in 1933. The Decca recording here restored dates from
late August 1935. Like much music by Arthur Bliss, the Clarinet Quintet
is lithe and energetic, albeit not particularly blessed with singing
melodies. There are classical procedures at work, fugatos and intricate
part-writing in Beethoven-like manner, to be sure, but the musical
materials tend to move hastily toward the meat of the work, the
Adagietto espessivo, where Thurston and Griller ensemble shine, or
shimmer, to be exact. The last movement Allegro energico has a fleet,
rangy athleticism that makes one wonder how Thurston might have fared
in Nielsen Concerto. The Brahms E-flat Sonata 20 April 1937 has an easy
facility of expression, though the piano sonority seems a bit thin. The
second movement Appassionato, ma non troppo moves at brisk clip, the
clarinet and piano engaged in a hasty dialogue where Thurston’s breath
control proves prodigious. The bubbly perky playing of the last
movement attests to a happy, even glib moment of  old-school
ensemble.

–Gary Lemco

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