Masterworks for Clarinet and Piano from Spain’s Basque Country
Oskar Espina Ruiz, Clarinet
Victoria Schwartzman, Piano

This album features my arrangements for clarinet and piano of two large sonata works by Spanish-Basque composers J.C. Arriaga (String Quartet No. 3 in E-flat major) and Andrés Isasi (Violin Sonata in F minor, Op. 25). These are major additions to the clarinet repertoire, qualitatively—since early Romantic and Post-Romantic works are scarce for clarinet—and quantitatively—since with a duration of 26 and 24 minutes respectively these works are as large as the Brahms Clarinet Sonatas. Three songs by José Antonio de Donostia, in versions for clarinet and piano, serve as a bridge between Arriaga and Isasi.

Arriaga’s work is my transcription for clarinet and piano of the composer’s third and last string quartet, in E-flat major, arguably one of his finest, which was written around the time of Mendelssohn’s Clarinet Sonata in the same key. The work, in four movements, presents some of Arriaga’s most tender melodies and modulations, with lean textures and a programmatic second movement, titled Pastoral. In this Pastoral movement Arriaga goes fully programmatic, assigning rolls to each part in the original for string quartet: the viola plays the murmur of the water in the creek, the first violin plays the bird calls, a shepherd’s song can be heard in the distance and a summer thunderstorm gradually builds up to the climax that gives way to the original serenity of the country. The work is written in an early Romantic style, but it includes traits of Haydn and Beethoven. Arriaga is also known as “The Spanish Mozart,” partly for his precocious talent, partly because he was born on the same day as Mozart, exactly 50 years after the Austrian master, on January 27, 1806.

Isasi’s Sonata was written in Madrid in 1917, after the composer returned from Berlin due to the outbreak of the First World War. The three-movement work is a good example of Isasi’s highly personal style, which melts Basque melodies and a very dramatic lyricism, with far-fetched modulations and the tone-poem culture of Richard Strauss.

Donostia’s Three Songs, written in the 1920’s, are hauntingly beautiful. According to Ansorena, in these songs Donostia depicts the approach of D’Indy: “in a simple and natural harmony that seems to emanate from the traditional songs themselves, from the people.”

All three works adapt handsomely for the clarinet. They benefit from the clarinet’s sweet low register, projecting and lush clarino register, clear articulation and innate expressive qualities—in Arriaga’s work, the concert-key of E-flat major is most idiomatic for the clarinet. By the same token, the clarinet repertoire greatly benefits from these adopted works, as there are no major recital works for clarinet in the early-Romantic style—Mendelssohn’s Clarinet Sonata is a youthful work—nor in the Post-Romantic style—except Julián Menéndez’s works, which are smaller in scope than Isasi’s 23-minute-long Sonata.

The music for these works by Arriaga, Isasi and Donostia will be available at the launch of my album at ClarinetFest 2021.