Gumboots – David Bruce | Clarinet Quintet – Brahms

Gumboots

When I saw this, I did wonder whether a piece inspired by Gumboots dancing and one of Brahms’ most beautiful chamber music works, really went together on the same album. However, I spoke too soon: it is that which is part of the beauty of this collection. Julian Bliss discusses the choices in the liner notes, saying that the idea of having a familiarity with Brahms, paired with a new ‘great addition to the chamber repertoire’ is one that he discussed in depth with the composer of ‘Gumboots’, David Bruce. It’s a genius idea: people will probably purchase the album for the recording of the Brahms quintet, and at the same time discover a new, wonderful piece of chamber music at the same time.

Admittedly, on first listen I wasn’t won over by ‘Gumboots’, and skipped ahead to Brahms; something familiar and comforting. I gave it a few days and listened again wanting to give ‘Gumboots’, with its quiet, atmospheric bass clarinet in ‘Gumboots: Part One’, and the foot-stomping rhythms in the dances, a chance. David Bruce discusses music which has been produced in ‘conditions of tragedy, brutality and oppression’ in his liner notes, and has been inspired by Gumboots dancers to create a piece which is both atmospheric and joyful. And now, I’m pretty glad I gave it another chance.

‘Gumboots: Part One’ is quiet and reflective – the clarinet and strings weaving between each other to give us a melancholic and haunting musical atmosphere. The bass clarinet is put to good use in the more meditative moments and the ‘folk’ element of the music is really on show here as it progresses. It’s lovely to hear the bass in the chamber music setting. From there, it’s onto the ‘dances’ as the clarinet jumps around everywhere with the strings, through tricky passages and some great, stomping rhythms. The dances are joyful and full of energy, the clarinet soaring above and darting along with the strings with ease. It sounds like such a fun piece to play, and this is so apparent in Bliss’ playing throughout ‘Gumboots’.

After a rousing final dance, the album moves onto the beautiful Brahms Clarinet Quintet in B Minor. This is truly a gem in the chamber music repertoire, and one which, if you don’t know, I would recommend you listen to. Often this piece is regarded as having an ‘autumnal’ mood, and while I don’t always agree with that, the many tragic elements in the work are always bubbling under the surface in this recording. Bliss’ playing is sensitive through, especially in the Adagio movement. The quintet moves between many different colours and moods, and this is done brilliantly by Bliss and the Carducci Quartet.

Overall this album was fun to listen to – ‘Gumboots’ is definitely one of those pieces I’ve thought after listening, ‘That would be great fun to try out!’. You might as well, even if you don’t play clarinet! The idea of having a much-loved work on this album as well is a great one, and I would definitely recommend this album to anybody looking to get into classical music as a way of hearing a more contemporary work along with an old ‘classic’.

Emma Longmuir

Emma Longmuir

I am 23 years old and I live in the Highlands.

I started writing for NE:MM back in 2013, after spending a happy three years living in Newcastle and graduating from a music degree at Newcastle University, studying all sorts of music from rock, to music in the Holocaust, to classical music. After this I moved to Manchester to do a postgraduate teaching degree and I'm now working in the Highlands, teaching woodwind instruments in various schools.

I love all sorts of music, but you'll mainly find me in the classical section of the blog writing reviews on new releases.
Emma Longmuir

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