Colin Lawson: John Mahon Clarinet Concerto 2, Peter Holman

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John Mahon (c1748-1834) english composer

Work: Clarinet Concerto No.2 in F-major (c. 1775)

Mov.I: Allegro 00:00
Mov.II: Andante "The birks of Endermay" 08:25
Mov.III: Rondo "The wanton god" 12:38

Clarinet: Colin Lawson
Orchestra: The Parley of instruments

Conductor: Peter Holman

Mahon's clarinet concerto may come as something of a surprise to those who think that eighteenth-century English composers confined themselves to Corellian concerti grossi or Handelian organ concertos. Not many English solo concertos survive, presumably because they were too difficult for amateurs and were rarely published, but those that do show that by the 1770s native Englishmen had acquired a surprisingly fluent grasp of the galant idiom.

The first movement of Mahon's concerto is an assured and extended example of Classical concerto form, with a profusion of elegant, tuneful ideas in the manner of J C Bach. The Andante is more characteristically English, or 'British', since it is a beautifully conceived setting of the Scots tune 'The birks of Endermay'. There was a fashion among English composers of the period for slow movements in the Scottish style: examples can also be found in the violin concertos by Linley, Shaw and Brooks.

Mahon's clarinet-writing is often brilliant, but it sounds somewhat limited to our ears since it avoids the lower chalumeau register exploited so memorably by Mozart and later clarinet composers. In part this is because English clarinets were less advanced than those used on the Continent, but it is also because the solo part was conceived, presumably with amateurs in mind, so that it could also be played on 'Hoboy, German Flute or Violin' as well as clarinet. It is interesting that Mahon does use the chalumeau register in the cadenza of the first movement, which comes from his later treatise A New and Compleat Preceptor for the Clarinet (c1803). The concerto only survives with string parts, but when it was published it was described as 'in all its parts', which sounds as if there should be orchestral wind instruments as well, so the opportunity has been taken here to add parts for two horns.