Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Patrick Hanudel
American Record Guide, July 2009

One of the leading soloists on the international stage, British clarinetist Emma Johnson has won critical acclaim for her expressive playing and musical personality. Here, with her compatriot, the noted pianist John Lenehan, she presents a program that includes music by Sir John Dankworth, who wrote several pieces for her in the 1980s and 1990s.

Born in 1927, Dankworth was the first student at the Royal Academy of Music to study both clarinet and saxophone, a crossover path that he carried over into a composition career that sought to dissolve stylistic barriers between classical and jazz. The opening work on the recital, Suite for Emma (1987), is a collection of five character pieces that as Dankworth writes, consists not of classical or jazz, but rather “music I would like to hear Emma Johnson play.” The music is vintage British neo-romanticism, much like the tonal ambience heard in film and television—picturesque, catchy, and pleasing to the ear, but nothing profound or memorable. Likewise, the closing work, Dankworth’s Picture of Jeannie is simply a short fantasy on the famous Stephen Foster song, ‘Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair’.

In the Bernstein sonata, the Copland sonata (arranged from the 1943 violin sonata), and Copland’s early Nocturne—a 1926 character piece for violin and piano that the composer 50 years later republished for clarinet and piano—they bring their full artistic commitment to bear. This release, like many of her other recordings, may appeal to a wide audience.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, May 2009

Bernstein’s Sonata is his opus one and a very assured piece it is. In two compact movements it has a lot to say and it says it succinctly and then moves on. Not a note is wasted in this work—there simply isn’t time! The second movement shows exactly how a little jazz can really perk up a work which is already rich in rhythm—this is one of the many things missing in Dankworth’s pieces—and the music really lives! Bernstein could have been a significant composer for the concert hall, but, in reality, his talents lay in front of an orchestra—but here, and in his Jeremiah Symphony which followed this work, we can see just what might have been.

Chamber music isn’t what one would think of when the name of Aaron Copland is mentioned…it is odd that Copland’s Violin Sonata doesn’t get played more often than it does. It is a lovely, lyrical, work, full of his open air style, with lots of rhythmic drive, and the kind of laid-back Americana we find in many of his works. Nearly 40 years after writing the piece, Copland reworked it for clarinet and piano and it makes a very fine Clarinet Sonata! Nowhere is one conscious of the fact that this is not original clarinet music—it simply falls so easily on the wind instrument. There is a lot of long breathed melody in this work and this is exactly the kind of thing which works so well on the clarinet, and that is one of the reasons why this version of the work is such a winner. Emma Johnson and John Lenehan realise the full stature of this work and give it a truly inspiring performance, it’s worth the price of the disk for this performance alone. The little Nocturne was written in the 1920s as a companion piece to a Ukelele Serenade for violin and piano. Like the Violin Sonata, with its long melodies and distinctly bluesy sound, this makes perfect clarinet music. Johnson relishes the long lines really sings as if her man had done gone and left her.

… the playing is superb throughout—how could it not be when two such exciting and talented young players are at work [?]

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2009

Emma Johnson is the UK’s best known and most charismatic clarinettist, an unending appetite for appearances throughout the country being fitted into a busy diary around the world. One of the early winners of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, she has since had many works composed for her, Johnny Dankworth’s For Emma, being one of considerable charm. Better known as a jazz musician, Dankworth shapes the five movements in ‘classical’ style and sounds so typically British. Johnson is a performer who colours music with thought and sensitivity, and Bernstein’s Sonata lives or dies on those criteria. She never uses that squeaky tone at the top end of the instrument that has become fashionable to heighten impact, but Johnson risks some incredibly quiet pianissimos. She has much more  competition in the Copland, and I would not name this as my first choice, as I miss some of the Americana both in Johnson and her excellent partner, John Lenehan. Originally for violin and piano, Nocturne does not sound ‘right’ in its clarinet format, but Johnson raises the temperature in the final track with a display of virtuosity in Dankworth’s elaboration of Stephen Foster’s Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair. Listen to the technical quality of the recording and ask while all others cannot be as good. Rated among the top clarinet recital discs in the catalogue.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group