Blackwood Clarinet Choir at St, Michael's, Bramcote, Nottingham: Friday, 30th November '12

What, exactly, can you do with a 16 strong gathering of talented clarinettists – one Eb, ten Bb, two Eb altos, one Bb bass, one Eb contra-alto doubling Bb bass and one Bb contra-bass? Well, you could saddle them with a clutch of finger tangling 21st century compositions/test pieces and see  half of the audience vanish during the interval. Conceivably you could find pop related charts to have the punters clapping, stamping and dancing in the aisles – somewhat doubtful perhaps. Alternatively you could deliver a wide ranged, well balanced and topical programme containing strong melodies which demonstrate the skill of arrangers who understand clarinet sonority and the underlying appeal of musicality. Such was this excellent concert staged by Blackwood , under the direction of Chris Hogarth, in aid of the church in which they have rehearsed since formation nearly two years ago.

The thirteen item programme embraced classical transcriptions (Tchaikovsky’s 7-movement Nutcracker Suite arr. Jon Halton; Beethoven’s Rondino arr, Joe Curtis and  Raymond Palfrey’s Serenade arr. by the composer),  vocal accompaniment to two Andrew Lloyd Webber numbers ‘Think of Me’ and ‘Music of the Night’ arr, Joe Curtis  plus two carol medleys Christmas Fantasy arr, Keiron Anderson  and  Christmas Pop Medley #4 arr. Jon Halton. All of this material was presented with an acceptable internal balance, accurate intonation and proper attention to dynamics –  a few slips here and there, typically ‘carillons’,  but nothing to mar audience enjoyment. Additionally Joe Curtis provided a delightful two chorus vocal support arrangement for the carol ‘Emmanuel’ with a nice contrast between them.  Keiron Anderson’s composition/arrangement ‘Blackwood Breeze’ introduced possibly the most challenging chart which, to me, had a distinctly Scottish feel with quite splendid voicings.

Blackwood Breeze

Highlights of the concert were two in number. Alistair Parnell’s arrangement of ‘Over the Rainbow’ was a glorious new take on this often hackneyed piece. Properly embracing verse, bridge and chorus the writing demonstrated a total mastery of the underlying chord sequence and an exquisite touch with the voicing. Exceptional!  Morten Lauridsen’s choral work ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ almost has the ability to stir the soul regardless of what combination of instruments are involved but at this particular event it was Nicola Pennill’s transcription for clarinet choir that made a most favourable impression. Out of respect for the staying power of the players Chris took the piece at a slightly faster pace than the composer intended but nonetheless Blackwood turned in an admirable performance – a truly beautiful piece for ‘choral’ clarinets.


Ending the programme a second non-secular piece was played: ‘Mortal Flesh’ Christian Forshaw’s version of an old French carol for his Sanctuary Ensemble (Sanctuary is made up of a soprano voice, a saxophonist, a church organist and a percussionist) had been modified for soprano voice and the saxophone/EWI group Equinox by Alistair Parnell and re-scored for Blackwood by Joe Curtis.  Having heard Sanctuary’s original both live and on record  I must record a certain disappointment with the re-score which robbed the choir of an important organ pedal voice as the contra-bass player was playing the drum.

In summary Blackwood, and their singers, gave the audience an attractive variety of tuneful offerings, nobody left in the interval and crucially all present were treated to a grand display of a single reed instrument which “plays (so) well with others”.

Thanks are due to Buffet et Cie and their local Agents, Windblowers of Nottingham who sponsor Blackwood.

Kenneth Morris (2nd Dec 2012)