Musical treats from Bonnie Scotland

Alan Richardson

Alan Richardson

It’s always very exciting when an unexpected cache of compositions suddenly emerge. A friend of mine recently got in touch to tell me that over twenty unknown and unpublished clarinet pieces by the composer Alan Richardson had just been discovered. 

You may know Alan Richardson through his delightful piece Roundelay – pastoral, quintessentially English (though Richardson was actually born in Scotland) with just a hint of Poulenc! It’s been recorded by both Reginald Kell and Gervase De Peyer and I play it often. Alan Richardson was born on February 29th 1904. He spent his 18th birthday (in 1972!) with Christopher Regan, who was Director of Studies at the Royal Academy of Music when Alan was a professor there. I’ve just been speaking to Christopher who remembered Alan very well. Alan, he recalled, was a charming Scotsman, excellent pianist, dedicated teacher, a highly respected examiner, married to oboist Janet Craxton and composer of many very attractive and charming character pieces as well as a number of larger scales works. The portfolio of clarinet pieces I’ve been given actually contains thirty-five pieces in all, written between July and November 1976. Three of them are unfinished. They range from short and simple ‘teaching’ pieces to slightly longer and more flamboyant concert works. I have asked my friend, the clarinettist Jean Cockburn (Jean and I gave a performance of the Krommer Double Concerto recently) to edit these and my intention is to publish them as The Alan Richardson Collection in four volumes. 

The reason Alan devoted quite so much of the second half of 1976 to composing for the clarinet is rather unclear. This was obviously a major project which never reached fruition. There is some really enchanting music here – all of it well written and some of it rather quirky, making for a valuable addition to the repertoire. I’m hoping to have it ready for publication in the Spring of 2012.

As a member of the British Music Society I was thrilled the other day to receive the latest journal which brought news of the release of a new CD: English Music for Clarinet and Piano, played by Nicholas Cox and Ian Buckle. It’s a very interesting collection indeed and I rang Nicholas up right away to have a chat about it. Included are the Three Nocturnes by Iain Hamilton (which makes the title of the CD not strictly accurate – like Alan Richardson, Hamilton was a Scot!) This work is very strongly linked with my own teacher John Davies, and it’s great to see it finally receiving its first recording (as far as I know anyway). Then there is the Sonata by Roger Fiske, a pupil of Herbert Howells, The Duo Concertante by Richard Rodney Bennett and Hugh Wood’s Paraphrase on Bird of Paradise. Finally Nicholas has included the Arnold Bax Sonata. Happily it’s a work that has become central in the repertoire, but Nicholas has undertaken a lot of new research and discovered much of interest, especially about the phrasing and certain passages in the second movement. I haven’t received a copy yet, but he tells me that the 20-page booklet that accompanies the CD reveals much of interest. The CD is available in the US via Allegro Classical distributors or directly from the BMS by sending a US cheque for $16 made out to S C Trowell at 7, Tudor Gardens, Upminster. Essex, RM14 3DE, UK. 

Another new CD contains virtually the complete clarinet music of Richard Rodney Bennett (which means a second recording of the Duo Concertante). This is yet a further disc from the hugely energetic Victoria Soames (accompanied by Michael Bell) and I was lucky enough to be present at the recording sessions up at the studios at Keele University. I was there for three days and on one of them Victoria worked almost continually from about 9 o’clock in the morning to 2 o’clock the next morning! Among the works included is the very beautiful and accessible Quintet for Clarinet and Strings. Given an opportunity to perform a quintet we do so often fall back on the Mozart or Brahms (and of course those are usually the most requested). But at just over a quarter of an hour running time, why not try to slip in the Bennett too. I think audiences would really appreciate the chance to hear something new and highly engaging. The CD is a must for your collection and available on Clarinet Classics – CC0064. 

I’m just off to do an all-Elgar concert: Enigma Variations, Music Makers and the Bavarian Dances. Amazing to think that John Davies (with whom I had a cup of tea yesterday) knew Elgar! His father (John Davies senior) used to teach Elgar the violin and as a young lad John would answer the door to the great composer regularly on a Sunday afternoon...