My Clarinet Concerto was commissioned by the BBC and was completed in 1994. It was first performed by Michael Collins (for whom the work was specially written) with the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Adrian Leaper, at the BBC Concert Hall, Manchester.
The work is in two parts and lasts for about 30 minutes. It is scored for large symphony orchestra, without clarinets except for a bass clarinet, which plays an important role in ‘shadowing’ the soloist. Part One opens with the solo clarinet in a cadenza-like introduction, gradually joined by the orchestra, in which most of the main material of the concerto is announced in embryonic form. The main allegro section follows, which has a sonata-form outline with two main thematic ideas announced, developed, and recapitulated. However, there is a constant process of thematic metamorphosis, so that when the second theme is heard again near the end it has been transformed into something quite different. The final bars, with their punctuated dissonant rhythms, leave the music hanging in the air, unresolved.
Part Two attempts to resolve the musical argument and transforms material from Part One into more tonal and melodically-based music. It opens with a long slow movement (strings only at the outset) which presents a chorale-like motive against a backdrop of a falling semitone ostinato (the same interval with which the concerto began and one which dominates throughout) heard on high violins. After a central climax the soloist unfolds a long, but quite simple melody, a gesture towards which the music has been striving. This leads into the final section, a boisterous dance, which incorporates ‘popular’ elements as well as reviewing material from Part One. The music inevitably moves towards its climax, heading towards B flat major and the melody the whole concerto has been waiting for. Its final bars resolve everything.
The splendid Clarinet Concerto with the musing soloist explores the basic material inquisitively, and from this grow the spirited, impetuous, rhythmically spiky main themes. The second half begins ‘pianissimo’ in high strings, creating magical textures and an atmosphere of serene tranquility which sends shivers down the spine. But the dynamism of the first part returns and from this Gregson fashions a richly heart-warming tune, which resolves all that has gone before.
Ivan March, Gramophone (November 2003)
The Clarinet Concerto extends his skill in formal planning to a two-movement structure lasting over half an hour, with an arresting opening, a calmly expansive slow movement, and a simple melodic conclusion that feels organic rather than an afterthought.
Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine (November 2003)
Over two massive sections …. the argument is based on two contrasted motifs that, with satisfying logic, resolve at the end in a warmly diatonic melody.
Paul Driver, Sunday Times
Part Two… begins with deeply beautiful, rapt euphony … and leads, via a jazz-tinged Leonard Bernstein-like episode of cool swing, to a resounding culmination …. – a big-screen conclusion!
Colin Anderson, International Record Review (November 2003)
Over two massive sections – with the second encompassing an evocative slow movement and a dramatic finale – the argument is based on two contrasted motifs that, with satisfying logic, resolve at the end in a warmly diatonic melody.
Edward Greenfield, The Guardian (October 2003)
The earlier Clarinet Concerto has a similar dramatic, quasi narrative thread running through it, though without any non-musical clues … This is a clarinet concerto on a notably large scale and in its wide-spanning argument, symphonic in intensity and scope … Clarinettist Michael Collins has really identified with the music and he gives a remarkably personal and personable account of the music.
Lewis Foreman, MusicWeb International