…This new CD couples two excellent concerto performances by the very gifted Sarah Williamson, BBC Young musician of the Year concerto finalist in 2002. She is ably partnered by David Curtis and the Orchestra of the Swan, which is rapidly making a name for itself as a major force in central England…Musical Opinion
…If the programme, and especially the pairing of the two composers, appeals to you, you won’t be disappointed in this disc. And we shall certainly be hearing more of Sarah Williamson…BBC Music
…Soloist Sarah Williamson plays with poise and verve; David Curtis conducts the supple Orchestra of the Swan. Appalachian Spring and a Finzi Romance are the fillers in this unassumingly glorious summer pudding…Norman Lebrecht
…Sarah Williamson produces a beautifully regulated sound and matches her intonation against the strings with luminous accuracy. She purrs her way through the Finzi Concerto, luxuriating in the music’s pastoral whimsy and phrasing with captivating sensitivity…Classic FM
Soon after Copland composed his Third Symphony, jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman, who was keen to become acceptable to the music establishment commissioned him, in 1947, to write a clarinet concerto. The concerto has strong jazz elements and as part of his quest to find a suitable 20th century language for his compositions, Copland had deliberately explored jazz rhythms and colours in some of his compositions of the 1920s, feeling that his work up to that point had been too European. He had studied with Goldmark in New York and Nadia Boulanger in Paris. But had later dropped the jazz emphasis in favour of a more generally American style which one indeed comes across in Appalachian Spring, which is also part of this CD.
However when Goodman’s commission arrived Copland dug deep into jazz again. The Concerto has 3 movements and after a brilliant clarinet cadenza, which links us to the exuberance of the finale, rather fast, with a jazzy downtown piano joining the strings. Ironically it was this movement which caused Goodman to keep postponing the work’s premiere unti Copland called his bluff by arranging for someone else to play it in Philadelphia. So at last the clarinetist grasped the nettle, and gave the concerto its world premiere in November 1950 with Fritz Reiner conducting the NBC Symphony of the Air.
Gerald Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto was premiered by Thurston at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford Cathedral in 1949, with the strings of the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer himself. The concerto breathes a typical Finzian melancholy and visionariness. Piquantly, both Finzi and Thurston died very young, and almost in parallel.
The clarinet (this time an orchestral principal) features prominently in Appalachian Spring, considered by many to be Copland’s masterpiece, and one in which he triumphantly asserts his command of the American “musical vernacular”. It depicts a quiet farmhouse in Pennsylvania in the early years of the 19th century, where a young pioneer couple are preparing for their marriage.
This is the setting for the ballet, composed in 1944 to a commission from the wealthy arts patroness Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, and choreographed by Martha Graham. Its original orchestration was for 13 instruments as in this recording, but Copland later arranged a suite for full orchestra. Described by Leonard Bernstein as a work of “bittersweet tenderness”, the composition paints a wonderfully moving picture of hope, aspiration and uncomplicated faith as the couple set out on their life’s journey together. The piece famously enshrines an extended treatment of the well-known Shaker melody “Simple Gifts”.
Sarah Williamson was a finalist in the BBC Young Musician competition 2002 with a highly individual performance of the Copland Clarinet Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Davis. She then went on to win second prize in the Eurovision competition for Young Musicians in Berlin, again with the Copland. After she graduated with a premier Prix from Le Conservatoire Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris she quickly went on to establish her career both in the UK and USA, Ireland and Europe. Since then Sarah has performed at festivals across the UK and all the major London venues. She has toured the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, the USA, Ireland and Spain among others with current highlights including concerts in Japan and Cyprus.