The Kelpie of Corrievreckan Op.5b (1939)
Quintet Op.16 (1941)
Rhapsody in E flat major Op.23 (1942)
Clarinet Sonata Op.45 (1955)
Prelude, Op.51 (1958)
Peter Cigleris (clarinet) with Gareth Hulse (oboe); Duncan Honeybourne (piano); Tippett Quartet [John Mills and Jeremy Isaac (violins), Lydia Lowndes-Norcott (viola) Bozidar Vukotic (cello)]
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0641 [67’37”]
Producer Siva Oke
Engineer Michael Wright
Recorded 1 and 2 November 2020 at Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, Surrey
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
SOMM Recordings marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ruth Gipps (1921-99) with this collection of her chamber music featuring clarinet, all of which was written with Robert Baker (her husband for 57 years) in mind and all of which here receives its first recordings.
What’s the music like?
A gifted oboist, pianist and conductor, Gipps was an all-round artist whose accomplishment was matched by a feisty temperament (as this writer recalls) laced with bitterness at the lack of recognition latterly accorded her, though nothing of this is audible in the music heard here.
The Rhapsody in E flat for clarinet and string quartet is one of this composer’s most lyrical pieces – its single movement twice alternating ruminative content and trenchant interplay, if without losing sight of the music’s essential poise, for all that a deeper and more ambivalent vein of expression comes to the fore – to be encapsulated by the clarinet cadenza at its close. Inspired by a poem from Charles Mackay’s 1851 collection, The Kelpie of Corrievreckan for clarinet and piano evokes its source in lively and often wryly humorous terms – its capering progress evidently not intent on taking this tale of the ill-fated protagonist unduly seriously.
Most substantial here is the Quintet for oboe, clarinet and string trio. Its four movements open with an Allegro of elegant restraint, whose modally inflected writing denotes allegiance to an English pastoralism prevalent over its deftly wrought and self-effacing course. There follows an Adagio whose calmly methodical progress admits of appealingly wistful emotion, then the Energico injects a welcome degree of wit into proceedings; before the final Allegro returns to more serious matters as it steers this work to a close the more affecting for its understatement.
British music for solo bass clarinet is not abundant, but Gipps’s Prelude is a notable addition to a mainly radical repertoire; its stealthy unfolding informed by an acute sense of continuity across this instrument’s timbral and registral extent, so it unfolds as an unbroken melodic arc. Finally, the Sonata for clarinet and piano – its initial Allegro starting with a Maestoso gesture which has a pervasive influence over what follows. If this opening movement feels relatively impersonal, the Andante must rank among Gipps’s most eloquent in its unforced pensiveness, then the Scherzando abounds in a quizzical humour continued by the final Allegro – its stern Maestoso prefacing music whose limpid asides do not offset the carousing energy at its close.
Does it all work?
Yes, on its own terms. As with many composers who took against the more radical aspects of British cultural policy after 1960, Gipps was inherently a conservative whose music is often less reactionary than often supposed. It certainly provides a stern test of musicianship which the present artists – not least clarinetist Peter Cigleris – meet head-on, in performances that bring out the idiomatic feel of Gipps’s writing for the instrument(s) at hand while conveying the reticent, yet discernible and often appealing personality that comes through in her music.
Is it recommended?
Indeed, not least given detailed and realistic sound, along with informative notes from Robert Matthew-Walker. Hopefully the cycle of Gipps’s symphonies will be completed by Chandos – but, for now, the present release marks her centenary as she would doubtless have wished.
Listen & Buy
You can discover more about this release and listen to clips at the SOMM Recordings website, where you can also purchase the recording. For more information on Ruth Gipps, click here – and for more on Peter Cigerlis, click here. More information on the Gipps symphonies, as recorded by Chandos, can be found here