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Highly Engaging

Emma Johnson plays
Bernstein, Copland
and Dankworth -
recommended by

'... outstanding performances ...'

Copland - Bernstein - Dankworth: Music for Clarinet and Piano. Emma Johnson. John Lenehan. © 2009 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Jazz and popular music have heavily influenced this highly engaging recording of music for clarinet and piano. It's an interesting spectrum of composers. Though classically trained, Sir John Dankworth is best known for his jazz recordings, many of them with his wife Cleo Laine. Leonard Bernstein was primarily a classical composer and conductor, but also performed as a jazz pianist and wrote several enormously successful Broadway musicals. Aaron Copland is the most exclusively classical composer of the three, but many of his compositions were heavily influenced by jazz. His clarinet concerto was written on a commission from Benny Goodman.

The music here mirrors the same spectrum. Sir Dankworth's tribute to Emma Johnson is the most immediately attractive, filled with melodies and rhythms that would make it the easiest for classical neophytes to enjoy. It's a suite of classically-influenced songs rather than a more usual sonata. It begins with a waltz.

Listen -- Dankworth: Valse (Suite for Emma)
(track 1, 1:35-2:32) © 2009 Naxos Rights International Ltd

One nod to classical form is the cyclic reappearance in the concluding fifth movement of the introductory theme from the first. It quickly morphs into the faster pace of a virtuosic finale.

Listen -- Dankworth: Clarentella (Suit for Emma)
(track 5, 0:11-1:23) © 2009 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Leonard Bernstein's two-movement sonata is initially a more formal affair. I is in strict sonata form and the melodies are influenced as much by Hindemith as by popular music. But the concluding movement clearly presages West Side Story.

Listen -- Bernstein: Andantino -- Vivace e leggiero (Clarinet Sonata)
(track 7, 5:38-7:03) © 2009 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Aaron Copland's sonata continues the trend towards the purely classical end of the musical spectrum. It was written originally for violin as a tribute to a friend of the composer, a pilot shot down in the Pacific during World War II. It is both a lament for that death and a celebration of his friend's life. The first movement uses the intervals and long notes which, even in a piece for clarinet and piano, so readily evoke Copland's wide and empty American prairie. The second is a shatteringly heartfelt Lento.

Listen -- Copland: Lento (Sonata for Clarinet and Piano)
(track 9, 0:00-1:12) © 2009 Naxos Rights International Ltd

The program ends on its most popular note with Sir Dankworth's variations on 'I Dream of Jeannie', a Stephen Foster song which is a favorite of Emma Johnson's. After a simple statement of the melody, it waltzes into quite a workout.

Listen -- Dankworth: Pictures of Jeannie
(track 12, 2:01-3:09) © 2009 Naxos Rights International Ltd

As you might expect from one of music's finest clarinetists and a world-class accompanist, these are outstanding performances, and the program charms, becoming even more satisfying with added auditions. Most warmly recommended.

Copyright © 3 June 2009 Ron Bierman,
San Diego, USA









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