Clarinet Concerto


The Clarinet Concerto was composed especially for an MMC recording by Richard Stoltzman and the Warsaw Philharmonic, conducted by the American conductor George Manahan.

Notes by Mark L. Lehman from the CD jacket (MMC 2031):

None of this information prepares the listener for Carbon’s extraordinary Concerto -- a huge (twenty-five minutes long) single-movement rhapsody of passionate, darkly voluptuous, chromatically intoxicated, endless melody teased and crooned and keened out by the solo clarinet amid a lush phantasmagoria of shimmering and flickering orchestral polyphony. Despite the wild diversity of mood--from ecstatic and rapturous to frenzied or desolate, from demonic to serene, from skittish to dreamlike, from the mysterious solenne e tenebroso opening to the lascivious and jazzy central scherzo-dance--everything is held together by the subtle but pervasive flowering into innumerable guises of a single five-note phrase given at the very beginning.

A few of the many ingenious devices that Carbon employs to create so much variety can be singled out. Notice, for instance, the way he extends the territory of his solo protagonist by echoing (and extending) its figurations with the shriller E flat clarinet on top and the deeper bass clarinet below. More obvious are the “blue” notes (from microtonal glissandos) in the solo part with their smoky, jazz-club ambiance. Carbon’s use of cadenzas in this concerto is also canny: instead of a single, extended showpiece for the soloist that might detract from the carefully sustained mood of nocturnal fantasy, he places several shorter cadenza-like solos at critical intervals that continue (and intensify) rather than disrupt the lyrical flow. The fluidity and expressiveness of these cadenzas --especially in Stoltzman’s performance--are astounding. There are moments of unearthly beauty that one would not have believed the instrument capable of.

But despite (and in a way because of) the sensuous beauty in this concerto, it is ultimately a deeply serious, even tragic work. Like a strange and wonderful dream-vision it begins and ends--as we all begin and end--in the soft darkness of a quietly heartbeating drum and the mystery of life emerging from and returning to nothingness.

The recording, on MMC, is performed by Richard Stoltzman with George Manahan conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic. There have been numerous international radio broadcasts of this work since the recording has been released.


Reviews of Clarinet Concerto:

Sonneck Society Bulletin:

“The flawless performance Richard Stoltzman’s admirers expect of him. John Carbon’s Clarinet Concerto provides some luscious atmospheric, introspective moments, supported by a thoughtful orchestral performance.”

Fanfare Magazine:

“Richard Stoltzman negotiates the demands ...with remarkable aplomb and effectiveness. [The orchestra] also rises to levels of great virtuosity. The idea of the clarinet concerto as a work of immense power and drama is new to me. John Carbon (b. 1951) provides a Concerto in one long (25:34) movement. His score is ... richly orchestrated, reminding me at different turns of Richard Strauss, Maurice Ravel, and Ottorino Respighi, though Carbon’s harmonic language and use of percussion are far more advanced that one finds in these masters of the early twentieth century. ...The soloist is asked to both exhaust and extend the potential of his instrument to make all manner of sounds. The orchestra is put through similar strenuous exercises, pausing from time to time to allow bravura cadenzas from the clarinet. MMC’s gorgeously recorded disc is a winner in every respect, and decidedly material for the 1997 Want List.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch, Clarke Bustard:

"Just as attractive, maybe more accessible, is John Carbon's moody, sometimes bluesy Clarinet Concerto (1993)."

American Record Guide, Stephen D. Hicken:

"John Carbon's Concerto is also in one movement. Its structure is rhapsodic, episodes rapidly following one another. Its 25-minute length is held together by a clearly recognizable (and pregnant with possibility) five-note motive that appears in countless guises in contrasting episodes. George Manahan is the expert conductor on one of MMC's best releases."

© John Carbon 2015