Davies's feeling for the potency and bravura of the clarinet goes back to works of the 1960s; his concerto for the instrument is predictably a big, ranging piece, in two linked movements. The first, fast with a brief slow introduction, has the soloist in propulsive melodic flights slipping over into florid runs, but it is a virtuoso piece for the orchestra, especially for the marimba and pair of horns. The Adagio that follows is in the spare, cold, birdcall-riven style of other recent Davies slow movements, exploiting first the clarinet's low register and then, at its climax, the instrument's high extremes. A cadenza leads to the coda, where Davies introduces a Scots tune, previously hinted at, with which he brings the work to an end in F sharp major.
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The Strathclyde Concerto No. 3 made a culminative statement about the horn and trumpet - instruments which not only appear in high profile throughout Maxwell Davies's orchestral and symphonic output, but for which he had also written relatively recent solo works, including another concerto for trumpet alone.
But the Strathclyde Concerto No. 4 represents a return to the clarinet - and from a very different point of view - after a considerable time. Both Stedman Doubles (1955, revised 1968) for clarinet and percussion and the legendary Hymnos (1967) for clarinet and piano frankly encourage the clarinet's potential for vehement expression. By contrast the Strathclyde Concerto No. 4 emulates the warmth and mellifluousness of Mozart's two late masterpieces for the instrument, although, as in Mozart, these qualities co-exist with a high degree of athleticism in the solo writing.
In the horn/trumpet concerto, the intrinsically high relief of the two solo instruments is enhanced by a complete absence of orchestral brass. Here, however, the clarinet emerges quietly from the sinister musings of the orchestral bass clarinet. The subtle discrepancy in tuning between the solo clarinet in A and the bass clarinet in B-flat sets up a basic tension which is only resolved at the work's end.
The concerto is a journey towards its theme, which crystallizes in the coda. This is a pentatonic tune (itself based on an even earlier one) by a nineteenth-century folk-musician called Morrison, and thereby emblematic of the work's dedicatee. Evidently, Sir Peter was standing in the parliament building on Edinburgh's Calton Hill and suddenly heard the folk-tune filling the empty hall.
The progress towards this tune takes in a short lento introduction and main Allegro moderato, a 'shuddering' Adagio, a clarinet cadenza (supported by lower strings) and a pianissimo ending (both 'inverse' climax and coda) not only unique in concerto literature, but different even from Maxwell Davies's other quiet endings in providing a real resolution instead of a question mark.
Underpinning this is a journey from the modal area of C to that of F sharp - so that the folktune arrives precisely at the moment where the greatest possible harmonic distance has been traversed.
Like its predecessors, the Strathclyde Concerto No. 4 is scored for a 'classical' orchestra of double woodwinds (including piccolo and contrabassoon, but with a single bass clarinet), two horns, timpani and strings. For the first time in the cycle, Maxwell Davies has also made judicious use of percussion other than timpani, here marimba, crotales and a Japanese gong.
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