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Nigel Clarke CD review ‘When Worlds Collide’ BBW

 A review by Christopher Thomas

If there is one aspect that immediately strikes home about this impressive double CD, it is the feeling of synergy that exists between composer and performers. Although hailing from Margate, Nigel Clarke has been resident in Brussels for some years and has developed a close working relationship with Belgian National Champions Brassband Buizingen and its talented MD Luc Vertommen, presently working as the band’s Associate Composer.

Several of Clarke’s recent works have consequently been written with Buizingen’s players in mind in music that makes huge technical and physical demands on the performers both collectively and individually. Listening to these stunning performances however, it is apparent that Buizingen are completely on top of the challenge, delivering every piece with remarkable technical prowess.

In the oldest work, the Euphonium Concerto The City in the Sea, the music rises mysteriously from the ocean’s depths in an atmospheric evocation of the submerged medieval East Anglian town of Dunwich, played with breathtaking facility by Glenn van Looy, now a permanent fixture at Buizingen. What the composer describes as the most “eccentric” piece, the overture Tilbury Point (although When Worlds Collide runs it pretty close for the accolade) is a rollicking portrait of the pirate, Captain Kidd and displays a lighter side to the composer’s creative personality.

‘Mysteries of the Horizon’, a stamina sapping, vividly dramatic four-movement cornet concerto played magnificently by Harmen Vanhoorne and previously released on the dedicatee’s solo album is inspired by the surreal paintings of René Magritte whilst Earthrise portrays the extreme velocity of the Apollo 8 mission and it’s radiantly beautiful view of Earth from space. Swift Severn’s Flood, a Shakespeare inspired ‘Musical Drama’ paints a dramatic portrait of Edmund de Mortimer’s battle with Owain Glyn Dwr in powerfully pictorial music that owes much to Clarke’s credentials as a composer of film scores.

That leaves the title track, When Worlds Collide, a quirky, distinctly offbeat response to early 1950’s sci-fi movies that for all its zany effects and tongue in cheek humour, belies a piece of dazzling creative virtuosity.

With Frank Renton’s silver-tongued recitation of the words of Shakespeare and poet Martin Westlake providing a neat link between each piece and an impressively packaged triple fold out case with excellent notes by the composer himself, this recording is both a virtuosic tour de force and a compelling portrait of a composer of ever increasing significance.

The Music of Nigel Clarke

CD: `When Worlds Collide’ – The Music of Nigel Clarke

A review by Iwan Fox on the 4barsrest.com website

10-Aug-2013

The Music of Nigel Clarke, Brass Band Buizingen, Conductor: Luc Vertommen, Soloists: Glenn Van Looy, Harmen Vanhoorne, Poetry: Martin Westlake, Narration: Frank Renton,

BBU Recordings: BBU88931-2, Total Playing Time: Double CD 51.50 & 53.28

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Nigel Clarke stands apart in the modern world of brass band composition.

His works are as deft and subtle as they are bold and brilliant; the music drawn from a capacious intellectual hinterland that encompasses the satirical sharpness of Jonathan Swift and the allegorical darkness of Herman Melville.

Pen and the Sword

Clarke’s compositional pen is mightily more creative in producing substantive works than the blunt edged swords so many contemporaries currently bludgeon us with in major championship test pieces. The dystopian brilliance of ‘When Worlds Collide’ (or Little Green Men in Intergalactic spaceships with Rayguns and Phasers), is ostensibly a homage to the bizarre 1950’s sci-fi B movies.  It is also a fantastical political polemic of a bypassed generation’s misinformed understanding of all things ‘alien’. Replace ‘The Blob’ with Brussels and the ‘Mysterians’ with the minions of Maastricht, and as Martin Westlake’s disturbingly witty poem suggests, we may have already been conquered and colonised from afar.  Swift would be delighted. We are all Europeans now.

Futures

‘Earthrise’ also asks the listener to ponder on all our futures. The iconic image taken by the astronauts of Apollo 8 of a luminescent globe floating amid eternal Bible blackness – ‘The Good Earth’ as they described it, still has the ability to resonate even with a modern day generation grown bored of non sci-fi lunar travel. Not so the composer (born in 1960) who recreates the sense of raw excitement and wonderment of the era of Saturn rocket blast offs and splashdown returns with alluring vibrancy. As they do throughout this double CD, Buizingen (this time in a live performance from the 2010 Europeans) deliver his sparkling inventiveness superbly.

Virtuosity

Soloists, Glenn Van Looy and Harmen Vanhoorne, perform the brace of featured concertos with a staggering level of virtuosity without for a moment losing touch with the musical core of the immense works. Both ‘The City in the Sea’ and ‘Mysteries of the Horizon’ have subtle elements of allegory in their DNA. The former is a ghostly tale of nature’s destructiveness of medieval village life – one that has echoes of the economic tsunami of despair that afflicts so many isolated communities today. The latter relates to the questioning, quizzical response the Belgian artist Magritte manages to instil in our thought processes towards seemingly non-descript imagery.

Drama and capricious fate

As if to enclose the composer’s immense skill set, the CD opens and closes with works of evocative drama and capricious fate. Tilbury Point’ is a colourful portrait of the buccaneering pirate Captain Kidd, whose entrepreneurial escapades ended with him swinging from the end of a noose – his flagellated corpse dipped in tar and hung as a warning to others at the mouth of the River Thames. The music (performed live at the 2009 WMC in Kerkrade) echoes the lilting meter of Martin Westlake’s poetry like the pendulous swing of the Captain’s horrifically caged final resting place.
Brooding

‘Swift Severn’s Flood’ is also a brooding tale of demise – this time Owain Glyndwr’s ultimately futile attempt to conquer the pernicious forces of Henry IV after series of Welsh cross border skirmishes. The Shakespearian poetry cannot be bettered – and neither can the playing.

Superb

With outstanding performances by Brass Band Buizingen directed with commanding authority by Luc Vertommen, enhanced by the wonderful poetry (which you can also download off the second disc) and Frank Renton’s nuanced narration, this double CD is one of the finest, intellectually engaging recordings for many a year. Nigel Clarke does indeed stand apart in the modern world of brass band composition – and this release proves it in full.  Long may he continue to do so.

Iwan Fox

What’s on this CD?

Disc 1
1. A quotation from Henry IV, William Shakespeare, Frank Renton (Speaker), 0.57
2. Swift Severn’s Flood, Nigel Clarke,Brass Band Buizingen, 14.19
3. The City in the Sea, Martin Westlake, Frank Renton (Speaker),1.37
4. The City in the Sea, Nigel Clarke, Glenn Van Looy (Euphonium) with Brass Band Buizingen, 16.15
5. Earthrise, Martin Westlake, Frank Renton (Speaker), 1.56
6. Earthrise, Nigel Clarke, Brass Band Buizingen, 16.37

Disc 2
1. Earth versus the Flying Saucers, Martin Westlake, Frank Renton (Speaker), 3.37
2. When Worlds Collide, Nigel Clarke, Brass Band Buizingen, 19.30
3. Mysteries of the Horizon, Martin Westlake, Frank Renton (Speaker), 1.04
Mysteries of the Horizon, Nigel Clarke, Harmen Vanhoorne (Cornet) with Brass Band Buizingen
4. I. The Menaced Assassin, 6.50
5. II. The Dominion of Light, 2.23
6. III. The Flavour of Tears, 7.18
8. Tilbury Point – Captain Kidd, Martin Westlake, Frank Renton (Speaker), 2.02
9. Tilbury Point – A Portrait Overture, Nigel Clarke, Brass Band Buizingen, 5.25

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FORTUNES FOOL

28-Jul-2013

Harmen Vanhoorne, Brass Band Buizingen, Conductor: Luc Vertommen, Belfius Recordings: 88906-2, Total Playing Time: 67.11

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It is with the brace of major compositions by Nigel Clarke and the trio of engaging works from the pen of his great friend Stan Niewenhuis that the complete performer is revealed though.

Gripping

Clarke’s intellectually gripping triptych, ‘Premonitions’, is a dark, unaccompanied clarion call – certainly not of a political ‘New Jerusalem’ – more a prophetic dystopian vision of a chaotic descent into consumerist hell.  It is played with a brimstone tonality that sends a shudder down the spine.

Definitive

So too ‘Mysteries of the Horizon’, which is given a definitive performance – each of its four movements exploring the composer’s personal interpretation of the surrealist hinterland of the paintings of enigmatic Belgian artist Rene Magritte. Whilst the title comes from his famous image of three seemingly identical men in bowler hats looking far into the distance, the individual elements are more opaque:‘The Menaced Assassin’ – a musically distracted killer; ‘The Flavour of Tears’ – a bird morphing into a leaf; ‘The Dominion of Light’ – 27 paintings of the same house; ‘The Discovery of Fire’ – a tuba set ablaze.  It is an illusionary, suggestive, questioning work – superbly constructed, breathtakingly performed; yet still, tantalisingly ethereal and intangible. You suspect Magritte himself would have been delighted by both the composer as well as the soloist’s truly inspired creation.

 

 FORTUNES FOOL

A review by John Maines (CD Review – The Brass Herald December 2012 – January 2013)

Harmen Vanhoorne (Cornet), Brass Band Buizingen conducted by Luc Vertommen. Band Press VOF 88906-2

Two pieces follow from the pen of Nigel Clarke, the unaccompanied Premonitions and the four movement Mysteries of the HorizonPremonitions consists of three prophetic fanfares and demonstrates Vanhoorne’s consummate command of his instrument.

Mysteries of the Horizon takes its inspiration from four paintings by Belgian artist René Magritte. As with the famous work by Mussorgsky, the titles of the paintings give the names to the movements:- The Menaced Assassin, The Flavour of Tears, The Dominion of Light, and The Discovery of Fire. This is writing of the highest virtuosic standard, played brilliantly and is, for me, the highlight of the disc.

 

FORTUNES FOOL

A review by Paul Hindmarsh (Critics Corner – The British Bandsman 14/09/12)

Harmen Vanhoorne (Cornet), Brass Band Buizingen conducted by Luc Vertommen. Band Press VOF 88906-2

In Nigel Clarke’s Premonitions, the spotlight is thrown completely on the soloist, whose `prophetic’ fanfares’, as Clarke describes them, `reflect the direction’ in which the modern world is travelling.’ The subtlety of Harman’s playing – the way shades of expression are nuanced from snippets of fanfare and lyrical response – is of the highest class. In the best sense, he combines the forthright presence of the trumpet with the warmth of the cornet.

Premonitions acts as the ideal prelude to the most substantial work on the album – Mysteries of the Horizon, a 22 minute concerto in four movements, again by Nigel Clarke. During the time he has lived in Brussels, Clarke has built a strong artistic relationship with Brass Band Buizingen. Written especially to showcase the multi-facetted playing of Harmen Vanhoorne, the concerto takes as it’s expressive starting point four paintings by the Belgium surrealist, René Magritte (1898-1967). Clarke responds to the first, The Menaced Assassin, with music full of drama, edge and dissonance. Fanfares based on the devilish tritone dominate the scene. Rather like the much less flamboyant but equally demanding Sinfonia Concertante by Heaton, the soloist kept busy throughout. In The Dominion of Light, the transparency of the writing and the emphasis on high percussion and cornets, lifts the mood. In The Flavour of Tears, Harmen’s lyrical and rubato style  is emphasised. In the finale, The Discovery of Fire, the music spits fire in a relentless moto perpetuo. The soloist is spellbinding and the band so colourful and controlled.

 

MTSU Wind Ensemble and Concert Chorale Soar at Hinton Hall

MURFREESBORO – Great wind ensembles are a lot like sports cars. They are high performance musical vehicles, groups that can accelerate in a flash, stop on a dime and hug the corners of the most demanding music. At the end of the day, there’s nothing a top-notch wind ensemble can’t play.The Middle Tennessee State University Wind Ensemble needed all of the turbo power it could muster on Sunday afternoon at Hinton Music Hall on the MTSU campus. Under the expert direction of conductor Reed Thomas, the ensemble presented a program that put both its technical and interpretive skills to the test. Thomas and his players passed their exam with honours.

Nigel conducting MTSU Wind Ensemble

Sunday’s concert opened with an ambitious work – British composer Nigel Clarke’s Earthrise. Clarke’s piece takes its name from what is arguably the most influential photograph ever made – the 1968 picture that Apollo 8 astronauts took of planet earth rising above the moon. Arranged in three continuous sections and lasting about 18 minutes, Earthrise attempts to capture the thrill of the ride on a Saturn V rocket. Perhaps Clarke could have subtitled the piece “A Long Ride on a Superfast Machine.”

Earthrise opens with sudden and sporadic bursts of brass and percussion – the sound of five Saturn rockets engines all screaming to life. The entire percussion section then goes nuts, pounding with power and violence to suggest the giant rocket lifting off its platform. Brilliant, sparkling and rhythmically vital notes soon come to the fore, implying that the craft has finally reached its escape velocity and is hurtling toward the moon.

In his pre-performance comments, Clarke said that the more subdued second section – with its gentle sustained notes – was intended to hint at the weightlessness of space. It would also seem to indicate the passage around the dark side of the moon. The final section is a raucous romp as the rocket roars back to Earth.

Although most of the MTSU Wind Ensemble’s performers are students (there are also a few faculty and community members), Clarke made no concessions in his score. His Earthrise is a fiendishly difficult piece. Thomas and his players, nevertheless, played this unfamiliar and virtuosic music with remarkable power and precision. For their efforts, they won an ovation that was as wild as the music. Art Now Nashville, John Pitcher

 

MAKING IT BETTER
British Wind Music 1981 – 2011

The approach of so many composers in the USA is to exploit the brilliance and brittleness of the wind ensemble, the vivid intensity of woodwind, the percussive tonguing of brass, the incredible range of colour of the modern percussion, and above all the virtuosity of the players of today. Many of our British composers take their lead from across the Atlantic, and the result is several hard-hitting pieces at the cutting edge of contemporary wind music.

Nigel Clarke has recently moved into the world of film scores, and his scores display a vivid imagine and tremendous energy. One of the most recent is Black Fire for Violin and wind orchestra; it is recorded by the Band of HM Royal marines on a disc of his music entitled Samurai and a review is headed UNMISSABLE:

Sometimes looked down on as a poor substitute to an orchestra, the Wind Orchestra has, from time to time, suffered a bad press. However, well written repertoire such as this proves that there is an important role for this kind of ensemble. Clarke is a master of orchestration; the use of percussion here is particularly compelling. The rhythmic drive is a life force of this work. This performance by the HM Royal Marines Band, Plymouth, has a wonderful sense of discipline and an underlying warmth of tone.

This article was taken from a recent essay written by Timothy Reynish
See: Making it Better

Rob Barnett – MusicWeb International

Nigel Clarke’s Equiano “is inspired by the life story of Nigerian-born Olaudah Equiano (1745–97), who at the age of eleven was kidnapped and sold to slave traders. Transported to Virginia, he was subsequently bought by a British naval officer and taken to London ….. He bought his freedom in 1833, and became an important member of the abolitionist movement …” This single movement piece – which adds to the usual forces antique cymbals and chain as a reminder of slavery – is more accommodating of caustic dissonance than the Turnbull. This is done with intricacy and sensitivity, the strings moan and slide in Penderecki slaloming. As things progress across the single movement it develops a frenetic angular energy. MusicWeb International

 

I am biased, of course but it was a genuine delight to see so much new work on display in Linz. The playing was often sublime, and the audience reaction to all our efforts was simply legendary. Nigel Clarke provided Brass Band Buizingen with a brand new score out of the top drawer of his energetic imagination, I provided Black Dyke with a head-turning homage to Vivaldi, the `Red Priest’, and Philip Sparke composed a classic winner in his own-choice score, A Tale as Yet Untold.

Professor Philip Wilby, British Bandsman 29 May, 2010

Fire up the Saturn! It’s all systems go after the dramatic start blasts off with power galore. It’s dramatic, exciting writing this and played with real ensemble verve by the band. Greatlittle individual motifs help keep the pace up but until we reach the weightlessness of orbit it’s been ensemble brilliance. Now we get the four intrepid astronauts in space and the sense of adventure which is playful and technical, before we see the majesty of the earth rising into view in the Apollo spacecraft window, which is reflective and full of majesty. These elements are so well brought to life and so atmospheric, before we fire up the Quattro rocket and head for home at one heck of a lick. Hells bells – literally – before the big splash down and glory be, we’re home on the seafront of Belgium. Great stuff.

Overall: What a fabulously descriptive piece – from take off to splash down and everything in between. It was a million mile journey at a million miles an hour – but so exciting.

……… Despite principal cornet player Richard Marshall winning the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ prize, they (Black Dyke Band) could only end a point ahead of an inspired Brass Band Buizingen from Belgium in fifth, who caught the imagination of many neutral listeners under Luc Vertommen.

4barsrest.com on the performance of `Earthrise’ given by Brass Band Buizingen at the European Brass Band Championships, Linz, Austria. 1st Mat 2010.

Nigel Clarke embodies the new generation of British composers, musicians which are finally freed from the diktats of the 1970’s avant-garde, and who therefore dare to write music that pleases them—and which appeals to the public—and who actually compose perfectly modern music. His influences are clearly Stravinsky, to which he adds a music corpus of all possible and imaginable origins, from Japan to Croatia via China and Turkey. If you consider that Clarke has signed several scores for famous feature films, the music lover will gather that they are faced with a multi-facetted composer, who stands out from any school or dogma, and whose works are highly likely to enthuse.

Clarke’s major work of course remains `Samurai´, a powerful movement for wind orchestra and percussion alluding to the Homeric combats of the Japanese warriors of the Edo period: It seems that all of the world’s wind orchestras have torn the score off each other’s music stands, and that the work is hailed by audiences everywhere.

No doubt more ambitious, the magnificent Concerto for violin and winds (`Black Fire´)—written on the orchestral model of the Weill Concerto—reveals Clarke’s music as more secretive, more exploratory, and bolder although still superb.

Without doubt, we have here one of the great European composers of times to come: take good note of his name.

Original French Text

Nigel Clarke représente la nouvelle génération de compositeurs britanniques, des musiciens définitivement débarrassés des diktats de l’avant-garde des années 70, et qui osent donc écrire la musique qui leur plaît – et qui plaît au public –, quand bien même de la musique parfaitement moderne. Ses influences reposent clairement sur Stravinski, auquel s’ajoute tout le corpus de la musique de tous les pays possibles et imaginables, du Japon à la Croatie en passant par la Chine, la Turquie. Si l’on ajoute que Clarke a signé plusieurs partitions de musiques de films célèbres, le mélomane saisira qu’il a affaire à un compositeur aux multiples facettes, dégagé de toute école et de tout dogme, et dont les œuvres risquent fort de l’enthousiasmer.

Naturellement, la pièce de résistance reste `Samurai´, un puissant mouvement pour orchestre de vents et percussions évoquant les homériques combats de guerriers japonais de l’époque Edo : il semble que tous les orchestres à vent au monde se soient arraché l’ouvrage, et que le public bisse partout.

Plus ambitieux sans doute, le magnifique Concerto pour violon et vents (`Black Fire´) – écrit sur le modèle orchestral du Concerto de Weill – permet de découvrir un Clarke plus secret, plus explorateur, plus hardi, mais toujours dans la plus grande beauté.

Voilà sans doute l’un des grands compositeurs européens des temps à venir : gardez ce nom en mémoire.

© Abeille Musique AMCD 2007 – Reproduction interdite

Colin Clarke – on Naxos CD:`Nigel Clarke

Fanfare Magazine, April 2008

My previous experience of the music of Nigel Clarke (b. 1960) did not bode well. I heard a piece called `City in the Sea´ for euphonium and piano at London’s Purcell Room in January 2004 and, frankly, dismissed it as trivial. It is good to have the present disc as a sort of correctional, then, for Clarke emerges here as a clear and confident voice. His cause is helped by such committed performances, most notably from the violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved.

Clarke studied composition with Paul Patterson at the Royal Academy of Music in London, although his musical career actually began as a trumpeter in the British military (hence the ease with which he writes for military band, as amply demonstrated in `Black Fire’). It was his interest in the music of the New Polish School of composers, though, that led him to his present path.

The three main works on the disc are `Samurai´ (1995, revised 2007), `The Miraculous Violin´ (2000), and `Black Fire´(2006). These works are punctuated with works for solo instruments: `Pernambuco´ and `Loulan´ for solo violin; and `Premonitions´ for solo trumpet, with the latter acting as a prelude to `Black Fire´.

Clarke’s collaboration with Skaerved dates back to 1984. It is a joy to hear Skaerved so well recorded, so that his warm tone is so cleanly preserved. For the solo violin pieces, the balance is close, so that one can hear the different attacks and effects with remarkable immediacy. This is very physical music. The first piece we hear, `Pernambuco´, is brightly colored and even, at times, ferocious. It asks the violinist to stamp his foot while playing. The inspiration is not only the rhythm and color of South American folk instruments, but also because pernambuco, aka brazilwood, is vital to the construction of the modern bow. However, Clarke takes this music very much on a walk into his own territory.

The `Miraculous Violin´ (2000) is scored for violin and strings and includes a cadenza composed by Skærved. There is more of a monumental feeling to this, as well as more of a feeling of the world of film music (Clarke has provided scores for several films). Again, Skærved tackles the difficulties of the solo part with real aplomb. The gestures here seem to lack the depth of `Pernambuco´, however, despite the many impressively atmospheric moments.

`Loulan´ is a short, three-minute piece, the raw material of which is derived from authentic Chinese folk music (the Zinjiang province). The impression of the opening, of hesitancy, seems to sum up the elusive nature of this small but significant utterance that makes effective use of vocalisms, and is the polar opposite to the more extended Samurai for wind ensemble. `Samurai´ was commissioned by the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and Timothy Reynish, although the premiere was due to take place in Japan. The score invokes the taiko, a huge Japanese drum used in warfare, and a conch-shell trumpet, the horagai. Far from being all battlefield evocation, however, the composer elected to include passages that make reference to ritual. These delicate Japonismes serve to placate the huge energies of the ferocious outgoing pages. The work ends with a shout from the orchestral musicians. The recording is so fine it could be used in demonstration situations.

Trumpeter Ivan Hutchinson dispatches the short `Premonitions´ with superb control. `Black Fire´ took as its inspiration Weill’s Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra, while the literary inspiration comes from Gustave Doré’s engravings from Milton’s Paradise Lost . Clarke further draws on Wagner— Götterdämmerung , to be exact, as if to emphasize the unstable emotional world he creates. Despite the unpredictable emotional turns this work presents, it ends with a lovely sense of warm light.

Thought-provoking music, then, if not of uniform inspiration. Worth exploring.

Carla Rees– on Naxos CD:`Nigel Clarke

MusicWeb International, March 2008

This is an interesting mix of works, by Nigel Clarke, an exciting emerging talent in the British contemporary music scene. Many of the works included here are world premiere recordings, and it is a real pleasure to hear them.

The opening track is `Pernambuco´, a seven minute extravaganza for solo violin. Expertly performed by Peter Sheppard Skaerved, this work is a virtuoso display of instrumental techniques, changing colours and emerging drama. The central lyrical section is captivating and forms a stark contrast with the highly demanding outer sections. The final part of the piece adds percussive effects, which add to the extreme physical demands of the work for the performer. This is a hugely enjoyable piece, which betrays Clarke’s abilities as a composer and his understanding of the instrument he is writing for.  The title refers to ‘brazil wood’, described in the programme notes as ‘vital to the construction of the modern bow’ and the piece as a whole deals with the subject of the bow as an instrument within its own right.

`The Miraculous Violin´ was a commission from the British Council and I Solisti di Zagreb, and was composed in close collaboration with all the performers. This is a wonderful work, which engaged me thoroughly from beginning to end. Although this is concert music, it would not be out of place in a film score (in fact, Clarke is also a highly successful film composer). This is a dramatic piece which appeals to the imagination. Again hugely demanding for the performers, this piece is full of Eastern European colours, with a wonderful array of textures and ideas.  The playing is magnificent from all the performers; Longbow accompanies the solo violin line with panache and, once again, Peter Sheppard Skaerved gives a highly polished performance.

The remaining solo violin track on this disc is `Loulan´, a short piece which was inspired by traditional Chinese sounds and structures. Clarke creates an entirely different sound from the instrument than we have heard in the previous two pieces, demonstrating his versatility as a composer. His ability to conjure up images in his work is astonishing, and once again, the violin playing is exemplary.

Peter Sheppard Skaaeved recording 'Black Fire' with the Band of the Roayl Marines Portsmouth

The title track of this disc is `Samurai´, which is perhaps one of Clarke’s most well known and most frequently performed works. Composed for Wind Ensemble, the piece received its world premiere in Japan by the Royal Northern College of Music’s Wind Orchestra, as one of a number of works commissioned by Timothy Reynish for that ensemble. The title makes reference to Clarke’s admiration of the Samurai culture, and this explosive piece contains elements of Samurai warfare and culture. Sometimes looked down on as a poor substitute to an orchestra, the Wind Orchestra has, from time to time, suffered a bad press. However, well written repertoire such as this proves that there is an important role for this kind of ensemble. Clarke is a master of orchestration; the use of percussion here is particularly compelling.  The rhythmic drive is a life force of this work. This performance by the HM Royal Marines Band, Plymouth, has a wonderful sense of discipline and an underlying warmth of tone.

This is followed by `Premonitions´, a short work for solo trumpet, which serves as a prelude to `Black Fire´, a work for violin and wind ensemble. `Premonitions´ is a strong piece, containing a range of expressions and colours. The performance here is excellent; Band Sergeant Ivan Hutchinson plays with real panache. `Black Fire´, the concluding work on the disc, has a range of influences in its composition, including Kurt Weill, Wagner (the work contains a quote from Götterdämmerung), Milton and engravings by Doré (these engravings inspired the title of the work). The solo violin provides a distinctive and sometimes sinister voice against the wind orchestra, with Clarke once again demonstrating his expertise as an orchestrator. There is much in this work to fuel the imagination.

James Manheim – on Naxos CD:`Nigel Clarke

All Music Guide

This is a well produced recording which contains a fantastic array of works. The playing is consistently excellent and the music of contemporary British composer Nigel Clarke heard here is brash, absolutely direct, full of attention-getting strokes, and above all physically involving and challenging for the players. Clarke works closely with soloists not only after but during the composition of a work, sometimes incorporating players’ practice and warm-up routines into his music. Violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved is a specialist in Clarke’s music, and Clarke writes mostly for the violin, although his own background is that of a military trumpeter. Band music gives Clarke’s music its frontal-attack feel, but it is his skill at weaving a variety of other influences together that keeps the listener guessing and avoids bombast even as the music gets really loud. He draws on Stravinsky, especially his primitivist phase, Kurt Weill, world traditions, and perhaps the new virtuosity of Crumb. Sample the little `Loulan’ for solo violin (track 3) for a taste; although most of Clarke’s music is not Asian in flavor, it does evoke the intense connections between music and theatre that are a special province of Asian musical cultures. The other Asian-influenced work on the program is 1995’s `Samurai´, for wind ensemble, with some very active percussion. It’s a crowd-pleaser that will wake up anybody who tends to fall asleep during concerts, but the sheer physicality of other works, such as `The Miraculous Violin´ for violin and strings (2000), is ultimately more appealing — young soloists on violin or trumpet who are looking for music with which they can push themselves to their limits and compel the attention of a crowd should get to know Clarke’s compositions. Most of the album was recorded at an unusual venue — the Royal Navy’s HMS Raleigh training establishment — but it proves to be an inspired choice for Clarke’s music, with a spacious acoustic that can contain its blaring side without stimulating auditory claustrophobia. Clarke’s output is impressive. Unmissable.

David Denton

David’s Review Corner, Naxos, November 2007

PremonitionsNigel Clarke, born in England in 1960, started out his professional career as a trumpeter, but soon felt that he had to pursue further education to establish himself as a composer. There followed several important awards, his music for the cinema creating significant interest. Stylistically he belongs to that growing group of composers who use both tonal and atonal music as best suits their needs at the time, the creation of colour being one of the major ingredients. Only future generations will know whether any of today’s composers intent on exploring many possibilities will eventually establish that definable style that locks them into the listener’s memory. Clarke certainly shows considerable skill in his very diverse output, `The Miraculous Violin´, scored for violin and strings, being very easy to like, while the two pieces for solo violin, `Pernambuco´ and `Loulan´ offer a new look at the sound spectrum of a solo violin. `Samurai´ was composed in 1995 for Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music Symphonic Wind Orchestra, the title and input relating to its premiere in Japan. It is far from easy to play, Clarke’s knowledge of wind instruments producing a fascinating score whose impact and local colours could well have come from a film score. `Premonitions´ for solo trumpet acts as a prelude to the explosive `Black Fire´ for solo violin and wind ensemble. Powerful, challenging and brilliantly scored, it again conjures up a film scenario. I don’t connect the Royal Marines band with contemporary music, but they show considerable expertise and commitment, while Skaerved’s violin playing is excellent. Very cleanly detailed sound. www.divine-art.com

Keith Potter on Metier CD `Premonitions

BBC Music Magazine,

Performer:

Peter Sheppard Skaerved (violin), Janne Thomsen (flute), Neil Heyde (cello), James Watson (trumpet), Philip Mead, Tamami Honma (piano)

The English composer Nigel Clarke is scarcely alone in attempting to find a path away from modernism without entirely avoiding the materials and techniques which modernism brought into being. But if he’s ploughing an already well-tilled furrow, he is doing it with considerable flair.

True, among the seven, mostly unaccompanied, works in this uncompromising survey – all written between 1985 and 1994 – some have little to say. `Echo and Narcissus´, for instance, does nothing to persuade me that solo flute pieces full of fragmented gestures plus occasional extended techniques aren’t these days just completely played out.

Listen, however, to the cello piece `Spectroscope´, with its mood swings between urgent lyricism and more aggressive gesturing, or the trumpet piece `Premonitions’, with its distant evocations of ‘ancestral voices prophesying war’. Or to the violin solo `Pernambuco´, with its transmutations of folk fiddling and wild foot-stamping. With all three of these, certainly, you get the firm impression of a composer with an acute sensitivity to intervals and timbres, and the imagination not merely the skills, to transform his materials into compelling musical forms. There’s a strong roster of players here, plus the bonus of an intriguing booklet note by the violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved.

Records International on Metier CD `Premonitions’

NIGEL CLARKE (b.1960): `Lindisfarne Stone’, `Echo and Narcissus’, `Spectroscope’, `Solstice’, `Premonitions’, `Pernambuco’ & `Chinese Puzzles’.

Rather like Nigel Clarke (see below) [Robert] Saxton is a composer who has stuck uncompromisingly to his personal vision as a composer without much regard for fashionable accessibility.

Clarke is one of the generation of younger British composers whose music stands in defiant opposition to the modern trend towards easy accessibility and instant assimilation. This is not to suggest that it is “complexicist” for its own sake, though in his collaboration with specialists in the performance of contemporary music the composer has demonstated a willingness to ‘push the envelope’ of performance practice the better to express extremes of emotion or thought. These works for soloists or small ensemble have enigmatic titles which seem designed to hint at, and then obscure, the details of the passions contained in the music itself. Various artists. Records International Homepage – Metier MSV CD92024

Leslie Sheills on Metier CD `Premonitions

Pan Magazine

This is a fascinating CD of contemporary music by a composer at the cutting edge of his art. Here is music of penetrating intellectual achievement from a mind capable of using music to realise complex musical concepts with crystalline three-dimensional clarity. This is not done without cost, for the technical demands made on musician and instrument take both to the point of collapse, but it seems as if it is at this very point of collapse that Clarke finds his true voice. Assembled for this CD are some of the finest virtuoso exponents of their instruments available, and obviously, the instrumentalist who interests us most closely is the flautist Janne Thomsen. Here lies the second good reason for buying this CD, for Thomsen’s playing is truly lovely. Her warm expressive and infinitely varied sound, with its astonishingly wide dynamic range, and her transcendental technique actually seem to hold a magnifying glass up to the music. The titles give very little clue to the nature of the pieces and one suspects a kind of Magritte-esque perversity in the choice of wrapping for the parcel. `Echo and Narcissus´ is not so much a representation of the Ovid Metamorphosis, as a jolly good flute piece with a nice name. I would not mind getting hold of the music. `Chinese Puzzles´ is an even better and more complicated musical conundrum, but has a sharp-edged, almost brutal aggression not revealed in the title, but positively belted out by Janne Thomsen. A CD comprising of 7 separate pieces, but well worth buying at any price for just two of them (even though the rest of the music is just as good) has to be wonderful value and I highly recommend it.

Richard Whitehouse on Metier CD `Premonitions

Gramophone Magazine

Anyone who knows Nigel Clarke solely from his brass band work will be in for a shock here. This is hard-hitting music, vibrant and intense. `Lindisfarne Stone´ and `Pernambuco´ are stern tests of sustaining momentum as well as technique, but Peter Sheppard Skaerved acquits himself with ease. `Spectroscope’ is more conventional in its formal divisions, almost Bartokian in its rhythmic pungency. `Chinese Puzzles´ rounds off the disc in engaging fashion.

David Wright – on `Solstice

Classical CD

Nigel Clarke was born in 1960 and studied at RAM. His `Solstice´ was inspired by pagan rites, Stonehenge and other ancient sites. It is in three sections: fast, slow, fast. Both outer movements are marked con fuoco and contain some breathtaking music. As with the Tippett, but less so, I sometimes feel that the music’s momentum is lost but if that needs to be forgiven it is when one considers the staggering and compelling music that unfolds.

Hi- News – on `Solstice

His piece is fired by the driving rhythms and incessant crudities of native drumming and pagan ritual. Smashing stuff.

BBC Music Magazine – on `Solstice

Clarke’s `Solstice´ has an imaginative approach to sonority.

Stephen Ellis – on `Solstice

Fanfare Magazine (July/August 1999)

Nigel Clarke (b. 1960) is a new name to me. His `Solstice´ (1991) was written, as former-Patterson-student Clarke is quoted in the notes, to “evoke images of pagan rites which have been (and indeed still are) witnessed at Stonehenge and other ancient sites.” At less than nine minutes’ length this briefest work on the CD, Solstice nonetheless has some of the strongest imagery to be heard. The central section of this piece in ABA form has a haunting, incantorial mystery about it, and the A sections, with their visceral excitement driven to large degree by the imitation of drumming, round out this unabashed showpiece.

The Times – on `Solstice

Early in the evening I heard a marvelously challenging piano piece by Nigel Clarke (born 1960) called `Solstice’ (brilliantly played, too, by Graham Caskie).

Nicholas Williams – on `Flashpoint

The Independent, 10th January 1997

Only Nigel Clarke’s `Flashpoint´ projected a similar sense of appropriate eloquence, with silence, that most awkward of aural ingredients, deftly handled in a brightly tessellated musical structure.

PernambucoThe Wire – on `Pernambuco

Nigel Clarke’s brilliant `Pernambuco´.

Paul Harris – on `Devil and the Hemlock Stone

Clarinetwise (February – April 2000)

I think my favourite is Nigel Clarke’s `The Devil and the Hemlock Stone’ from which the title of the CD is derived. It’s a miniature piece of music theatre, highly effective and entertaining.

Keith Benjamin – on `Premonitions

(Conservatory of Music, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas). International Trumpet Guild Journal

This is an intelligent and painstakingly composed piece that manages to be dramatic and interesting in a genre that seems full of overly dry and academic writing. I would highly recommend `Premonitions’ to anyone looking for a challenging and musical new piece for solo Trumpet.

Meredith Oaks – on `Rain Dance

The Independent (January 1990)

This is a good solid piece in its bravura orchestration and confident theatricality.

Samurai - Metropolis

Gary S. Dalkin – on `Samurai

Musicweb International (2000)

Samurai by Nigel Clarke ends the programme with some thrillingly dynamic controlled fury. This is explosive writing, yet extremely well controlled and organised, with a relentless percussive edge which calls to mind Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Jerry Goldsmith’s The Planet of the Apes and The Wind and the Lion. However, Clarke also depicts the cultured, artistic side of the `Samurai´, in ways which one has to say evoke a CinemaScope orient. Depending on your taste for Bernard Herrmann in exotic mode, you will be right at home here.

Though parts of the classical world would still like to pretend that the cinema does not exist (even jazz only gets a grudging look in), it is absurd to deny that the most important new art and entertainment form of the last century must inevitably have had an influence upon composers who have grown-up with it, even if they have never composed for it. I have heard few discs where that influence was so obvious as here, and the result is to revitalise the classical tradition, with four pieces that normal people might even be tempted to pay to hear. Above all else it is a joy to hear contemporary classical music which one would actually look forward to hearing again, rather than dashing for the off button with maximum haste. The complex interplay of wind and percussion is frequently stunning, the playing astonishingly dextrous, and the recording superb, capturing the full range of this vibrant programme with overwhelming physical intensity. Wait till the building is otherwise deserted, then set the amp to 11. Musicweb International

Uncle Dave Lewis – on `Samurai

All Music Guide (2005)

Samurai LogoWith Nigel Clarke’s `Samurai´ we find ourselves in an idiom closer to that of Gorb — big, exciting stuff that gets hold of the listener and never lets go. Don’t expect any faux parody of Japanese motifs — this is action music, pure and simple, fueled by the motoric rhythms of Taiko drummimg. It will get your blood boiling, and is not so discordant that it makes you want to commit Seppuku. If one likes contemporary symphonic band music, or just thrilling, engaging music of the current day that tells a story rather than introduces a new development in quantum physics. Klavier’s Metroplis (name of CD) is a good choice.

Winds Magazine – on `Samurai

Nigel Clarke’s new piece `Samurai´, is one of the most solid conceptual pieces to come out in many years, and manifests itself in a wonderfully fresh soundscape for band.

Musicteachers.co.uk – on `Battles and Chants’

The opening piece is `Battles and Chants’ by Nigel Clarke. A programmatic explanation is given by the composer in the liner notes, shedding much light on the work’s structure; the clarinet is literally pitted against the orchestra in a virtuoso battle that harks back to the concerto ideals of the nineteenth century. An ominous texture builds up in the first movement to release a passage of aggressive, driving rhythms through which the composer conjures up the title’s vivid images. The second movement begins in a similar manner to the first, but then veers towards a more contemplative mood; Merrick conveys the clarinet’s cries with fitting intensity, painting an aptly bleak picture. In the finale, the battle is illustrated with bold splashes of colour, the soloist’s frantic and shrill lines not able to escape the hammer-blows or diving chromatic lines in the orchestra.Musicteachers.co.uk

LynnHarrell_ChristianSteinerStrad – on `Spectroscope

(1987)

He (Lynn Harrell – cello) treated Nigel Clarke’s `Spectroscope’ as a buoyant jeu d’esprit, forwardly vocal for every effect; the piece might have been made for that middle register of his.

The Guardian – on `Spectroscope

(1987)

Harrell now holds the international chair of Cello studies at the Royal Academy of Music, and he set a fine example to pupils and colleagues by including a composition of a recent Royal Academy graduate Nigel Clarke. Entitled `Spectroscope’, it was on one level an exploration of cello virtuosity, showing an acute appreciation of both standard and the most unusual effects (contrary glissandi etc) obtainable.

Lindisfarne-SCOREThe Times – on `Lindisfarne Stone

(1989)

In Nigel Clarke’s `Lindisfarne Stone’ Jackson found an approachable yet resourceful work, one that explored the violin’s range of timbres effectively. Clarke’s aim in a language transparently derived from Bartok, is to evoke the mysticism and develop the theme of violence suggested by the carvings depicting Viking warriors on the ancient rock of his work’s title. He has made a compelling and distinctive piece, and both Jackson and his pianist, Scott Mitchell, relished every challenge it presented.

Musical Opinion – on `Lindisfarne Stone

The most unusual program came from the violinist Laurence Jackson who had the audience spellbound with the sheer originality of `Lindisfarne Stone’ by Nigel Clarke.

Chinese Puzzles SCORE

The Times – on `Chinese Puzzles

Stephen Pettit (1993)

Nigel Clarke’s `Chinese Puzzles’, yet another first performance, possessed plenty of energy, imagination and communicability, demanding much and getting it.

The Yorkshire Evening Post – on `The City in the Sea

(1993)

The reigning national champions, Black Dyke gave a typically wide-ranging and colourful programme on Saturday under their experienced conductor, James Watson.

The outstanding feature of a meaty first half was the world premiere of a euphonium concerto by Nigel Clarke, the band’s composer-in-residence. Under the subtitle `The City in the Sea’, it recalls the East Anglian coastal town of Dunwich, which has long since been engulfed by the North Sea.

Though written in an extended single movement, it divides into three sections, a slow central elegy surrounded by much brisker tone-paintings which depict wind and waves gradually gaining the upper hand. There was an added poignancy at the start when strong gusts outside caused creaking doors around the hall.

Robert Childs was the fluent soloist through some dazzling multiple-tonguing in the opening section, which grew more menacing as it progressed. But in the finale he was required to reach into all parts of his range at high speed, against a whirling, syncopated accompaniment that accelerated into a rapid coda. The overall effect was exciting vivid and evocative.

Brass Band World – on `The City in the Sea

Vernon Briggs (1995)

The festival also exists to promote high quality NEW music for brass, and the most exciting of this concert was to be Nigel Clarke’s Euphonium concerto (sub-titled `The City in the Sea’). Unashamedly pictorial and illustrative, this work takes for its programme the story of how the East Anglian capital-town of Dunwich was partially engulfed by the sea following a series of violent storms in 1326. It is said that the bells of the nine submerged churches still ring out on stormy nights, and that a ghostly procession of monks walks amongst the monastery ruins chanting verses.

BobChilds_euphoniumAll of this and other dramatic effects could be heard in this performance where the euphonium soloist, Robert Childs, first plumbed the depths of the lowest pedal notes on the instrument to produce a kind of awesome for-horn warning. Then as the band energetically stirred up the ferocity of the storm , the sequence was finally pierced by an agonizing scream (this time in the stratospheric register of the euphonium), amidst a great sound-picture of gale-force winds and general devastation . Then followed a strange evocation of the monks chanting in procession and subsequently the mournful ringing of the sunken bells. This effect was achieved by a percussionist  sliding a sounding gong slowly down into a bucket of water , with the pitch spookily flattening and becoming increasingly muffled. The euphonium soloist bore the role of dramatic narrator, with the band providing the atmospheric back-drop of the varying weather moods.

Reminiscent in its outer movements of the more tempestuous 20th-century cello concertos, the piece also reminds one (in the range of tonal effects required of the soloist) of some more recent virtuoso French horn playing. Overall, this was a most exciting experience.

The British Bandsman – on `The City in the Sea

Christopher Wormald (1995)

Nigel Clarke, also from the Royal Academy of Music and the current composer-in-residence for Black Dyke, then introduced his new Euphonium concerto for Robert Childs, `The City in the Sea’, and a number of his works. Whilst it was interesting to listen to many elements, thoughts and strands which went in to the new, excellent concerto, many in the audience were clearly noting that, after half an hour, only the Ireland had been played. As a champion of new music I find lengthy explanations about a premiere almost an attempt to justify what is about to be heard by the listener , completely unnecessary for this fine piece which was played brilliantly. Whilst debates will always exist amongst euphonium players about the sound quality and tone, Robert Childs demonstrated once again his absolute mastery of range and control of this fine instrument in what was a very accessible piece. A tonal opening with characteristic leaps of diminished 5ths and augmented 4ths, the work grew in dissonance towards the central section , having already included some famed Childs brothers’ `autographs’; these included rapidly rising and falling scalic passages and the most incredibly challenging leaps for the soloist, all of which were superbly delivered throughout. The opening material duly returned after a lengthy development section, and this exciting first ever public performance was very well received. Innovative scoring and percussive techniques combined to superb effect; three muted basses, another unmuted and a miniature tam-tam, struck and then plunged into water to achieve a ghostly pitch drop and reverberation to fascinating effect. Robert Childs produced an almost faultless performance of a testing solo part which others who come after will find difficult to emulate.

ap23_001Brass Band World – on `Atlantic Toccata

Vernon Briggs (1993)

Nigel Clarke’s `Atlantic Toccata’, commissioned by James Watson and the band (Black Dyke Band), was receiving its world premiere and the composer was on hand to tell us a little bit about the work.

The image of the Standing Stones at Callanish on the Hebridean Isle of Lewis provides the inspirational backdrop, stones that are part of the Megalithic site that was constructed between 3000 – 2000 years B.C. These Stones provided an aura that is both friendly and hostile and it is presumed the Stones witnessed pagan rituals. Nigel Clarke said he alluded to these images and tried to develop the sense of mystery and geographical isolation.

James Watson said he wished the band could play the music twice. However, so brilliantly did the band play he was unable to play any of it twice because there were no retakes at the end of the programme.

The first movement featuring the elements allowed the listener to become familiar with the composer’s palate. The second movement evoked a sense of mystery with all of the brass instruments muted and moving in similar motion, a mood that was subject to percussive intrusions from gong, bass drum and timps. We heard musical ideas slowly merging as the composer utilised solo in instruments, duets and entire sections all of which culminated in an extensive solo Eb bass, played most effectively and stylishly by Philip Goodwin. The last movement featured fast-moving passages that were accentuated by rhythmic motives. At the end of the piece more than anything, you wanted to hear it again.

4barsrest.com on `Gwennan Gorn’

Nigel Clarke has already written exciting works for both brass bands and solo instruments and this latest work, `Gwennan Gorn´ is another work that shows a talent for brass composition that is exciting and individual.

The music is idiomatic in that it takes inspiration from the legend of Prince Madoc, who allegedly in myth sailed to America in the 14th century. Gwennan G - WildfireThe provenance of his claims are debatable, but the provenance of this work cannot be questioned; it is a superb bit of writing, a one movement work divided into three main sections – fast, slow, fast which has faint echoes of native Mandan Indian music as well as medieval fanfares. It is very impressive indeed. 4barsrest.com

Winnipeg Free Press – on `Samurai’ Gwenda Nemerofshy

The audience favourite was British composer Nigel Clarke’s `Samurai’, a throbbing and raucous work influenced by Japanese drumming. The work came in waves, with elegant woodwinds and xylophone of the University of Manitoba Wind Ensemble first lulling us with gentle melody. But make way for the low brass and percussion  coming through with full force! Conductor Alexander Micklethwate manoeuvred the ensemble through these ups and downs with alacrity and the four young percussionists did a fine job with their demanding role. It’s easy to see why this exhilarating attention-grabber is Clarke’s most played work.Winnipegfreepress (05/02/09)

Windstorm.com.au `The Art of the Clarinet Soloist’ By Ralph Hultgren – on `Battles & Chants’

I am somewhat subjective in my views on the next piece, the `Battles and Chants’ of Nigel Clarke. I am pleased that I have been able to get to know Clarke over the last few years. So, subjectivity; how can I be accused of that in this situation? Well, his music is just frantic at times and he takes the listeners breathe away at others and he brings to his musical canvas an intensity that is compelling for me. I endeavour to write with his fervour and his apparent zeal and so, when I hear music like this I am drawn to it! This is program music of a high order that happens to also be in the mould of the three movement concerto form. The work describes (as the composer tells) “the struggle of Cassivellaunus, a tribal leader in Britain in 54 BC (and his battles with) Julius Caesar and his legions”. Here is music replete with drama, angst, fury and despair. It is ingenious and solid in its craft and orchestrational adeptness. Windstorm.com.au

The Guardian on `Winter Music’

`Winter Music’, Clarke’s Antarctic soundscape and tribute to Ernest Shackleton, juxtaposes music evoking an eerie, frozen wasteland with passages of propulsive intensity. Here, too, there were flashes of nostalgia in brief moments of Elgarian intensity, movingly evoking memories of Edwardian England. Pauline Fairclough – 24 February 2003