On record – Peter Cigleris: Dedication – The Clarinet Chamber Music of Ruth Gipps (Somm Recordings)


Ruth Gipps
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

On record – Steve Elcock: Chamber Music Vol.1 (Toccata Classics)

The Veles Ensemble (Hartmut Richter (violin), Ralitsa Naydenova (viola), Evva Mizerska (cello), with Daniel Shao (flute), Peter Cigleris (clarinet), Yuri Kalnits (violin), Leon Bosch (double bass), Catalina Ardelean (piano)

Steve Elcock
Clarinet Sextet Op.11b (2001/14)
String Trio no.1 Op.8b (1998/2016)
The Shed Dances Op.26b (2016)
An Outstretched Hand Op.24 (2015)

Toccata Classics TOCC0506 [79’36”]

Producer & Engineer Michael Ponder

Recorded 21-22 May 2018, St Silas, Chalk Farm, London, 24 May 2018 (Sextet, Trio, The Shed Dances), Henry Wood Hall (An Outstretched Hand)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Following an impressive disc of his orchestral music (TOCC0400, reviewed on Arcana here), Steve Elcock (b1957) is given further coverage by Toccata Classics with this release of chamber music, reaffirming him as a force to be reckoned with among those symphonic composers from his generation.

What’s the music like?

Every bit as engrossing as the works on that earlier release – that is, uncompromising without being unyielding and serious without being (unduly) earnest. This is evident from the earliest piece here, Elcock’s First String Trio having been conceived for two violins and viola before reaching its present guise. A tensile single movement pivots constantly between the fractious and consoling, at times encroaching upon a more equable expression that nevertheless fails to sustain itself, and with a conclusion where even the most tenuous poise is summarily denied.

Starting out as a Concertino for clarinet and string orchestra, the Clarinet Sextet is on a larger scale – opening with an Allegro whose clear-cut sonata design opens-out intriguingly with a cadenza-like passage just before the reprise. Similarly, the Romanza is thrown off-balance by a faster central section which duly intensifies the climactic stages, and if the progress of the final Variations and Theme seems more arresting as regards form rather than content, the gentle evanescence after the theme has been elaborated feels as subtle as it is intriguing.

More immediately approachable, The Shed Dances began life as a sequence for violin and piano before being recast for clarinet and string trio. Written at the suggestion of a sufferer from the neurological condition known as ataxia, all six dances are thwarted or undermined by rhythmic imbalances that are only effortfully overcome – the most memorable being the inhibited gait of Petrified minuet, edgy impulsiveness of Boneyard antics and winsome swaying of Marion’s pavane which confirms Elcock as possessing no mean melodic gift.

Finally, to An Outstretched Hand whose inspiration in the stark contrasts of composing as an act of friendship across the centuries and the burgeoning refugee crisis across Europe became fused into this powerfully sustained single movement for flute, clarinet and piano quartet. Its sombre initial Largo is followed by two Allegros (themselves separated by a stark interlude) whose increasingly confrontational manner carries over to a final Largo which recalls earlier material in a mood that, fatalistic rather than merely defeatist, exudes the keenest poignancy.

Does it all work?

Yes, in almost all respects. It helps when these performances are so evidently attuned to this idiom, teasing subtleties out of the charged formal processes and grating expressive contrasts that are recognizable Elcock traits. The overall programme is carried by the Veles Ensemble, whose tonal finesse and tangible commitment to this music is evident throughout – which is hardly to decry the contributions of those other musicians featured here. Hopefully it should prove possible for these pieces to be heard in public performance on some future occasion.

Is it recommended?

Certainly – not least when the sound is unexceptionally fine, and the composer’s annotations are unfailingly to the point. Elcock’s growing admirers will be pleased to hear that a further disc of orchestral music (including the Fifth Symphony) is scheduled for imminent release.

Listen and Buy

You can listen to clips and purchase this disc from the Toccata Classics website