‘Architecture begins when two bricks are placed carefully together,’ said Mies van der Rohe. This idea runs through the debut album by the brilliant English clarinettist Jonathan Sage. This is a captivating release by one of England’s finest young musicians, combining three different approaches to counterpoint, an elemental musical technique running through centuries of music.
The American composer Steve Reich opens this vibrant new release with his minimal clarinet masterpiece New York Counterpoint. At times grand and spacious, Reich’s writing is propelled by exhuberant and joyful rhythms. Featuring eleven seperate clarinet lines (all performed by Sage), it is a spirited celebration of putting note against note, the basic act of counterpoint.
The Irish composer Benedict Schlepper-Connolly, whose first musical instrument was the violin, has arranged part of one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sublime violin partitas for solo clarinet. The ‘Sarabande’ exposes baroque counterpoint in a stripped-down form, with the violin chords translated into delicate clarinet arpeggios.
Schlepper-Connolly also features with his powerful work Another Country. Commissioned by Sage, this acts as a sister piece to Reich’s and shares its multi-layered instrumentation. As the music gradually unfolds, an elegantly chugging choir of clarinets is absorbed by a frenzied whirl of melody. The momentum builds and the listener is torn along, the music’s vigour matched only by its moments of sudden tenderness.
Jonathan Sage, who is based in York, enjoys a varied career as soloist, orchestral and chamber musician. As a concerto soloist, Sage has played with, amongst others, the London Mozart Players, York Sinfonia and Ergodos Musicians, and once stood in for his teacher — the late Alan Hacker — to play the Mozart Clarinet Concerto at twenty-four hours notice.