Of the 37 pieces recorded by Colin Bradbury and Oliver Davies for Clarinet Classics, only five belong to the 20th century. The most recent was written in 1913. It would seem from this that Colin’s musical interests lie solely in the works of Victorian and Edwardian composers, but this is far from the truth. As Principal Clarinet of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, appointed to the post at the start of Sir William Glock’s reign at the BBC, Colin was deeply and enthusiastically involved with that orchestra in the revolution in music broadcasting and the explosion of contemporary music performances which Glock inspired. Most especially he enjoyed the golden age of the 1970s, when Pierre Boulez, as principal conductor, revolutionised concert planning in London and took the orchestra all over Europe, as well as to Russia and Japan.
But life at the BBC was not only about the avant-garde. Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie was Colin’s first concerto in the Proms, and the subject of his farewell solo appearance with the orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall thirty three years later. The years between saw many performances of the concertos of Mozart and Weber, as well as a number of lesser known works and a Prom performance of the Concerto of Carl Nielsen. Then of course there was the Last Night of the Proms, when in 1968 the full version of Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs was revived, including the famous clarinet cadenza written by Wood for Haydn Draper. It was played by Colin nearly every year thereafter until his final Prom appearance.
Colin’s interest in the music of the nineteenth century went back to early years in Blackpool, where his first teacher was familiar with the airs and variations beloved of Henry Lazarus and his successors. Colin’s family, enthusiastic amateur singers, surrounded him with music, not least the songs and oratorios of Mendelssohn and the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and two years as a church organist made him familiar with the Anglican hymn book. Playing in the local symphony orchestra under Robert Atherton did open up wider musical horizons, but his sympathy with the operatic works of Arthur Sullivan and the hymn tunes of J B Dykes remained undimmed.
It was the immense good fortune of joining the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain as a founder member at the age of 15 which launched Colin’s career in music, and the influence of Frederick Thurston, the earliest clarinet tutor of the NYO, became paramount. Not for Thurston the clarinet repertoire of the Victorians, in which he himself had been brought up. He relished the music of Brahms, Debussy and Stanford, and, being appointed as a young man to be the first Principal Clarinet of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1930, he knew the music of his contemporaries. Colin took lessons with Thurston, and in his final concert with the NYO he played the Mozart Concerto at the Edinburgh Festival, before becoming Thurston’s pupil at the Royal College. The following years saw study at the College, national service in the Irish Guards Band and four years with Sadler’s Wells Opera before he joined the BBC, fifteen years after Thurston had left it.
Maybe, nearly 20 years later, it was a surfeit of contemporary music which led Colin to remember the early clarinet days with some affection, and when it was suggested that he make an LP, the idea of revisiting some of that repertoire took root. Tom Smith, Colin’s first teacher, now retired, generously gave him his music library, and a test record was made. But Colin’s piano partner and College contemporary, Bernard Roberts, was not able to join in – his own career as a soloist was blossoming, not least with his recording of the 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas. His suggestion of Oliver Davies, not only a masterly pianist, but an eminent scholar of nineteenth century music, became seminal to the whole idea. Oliver took what had been a light-hearted venture and transformed it into a major research and recording project, involving countless visits to libraries here and abroad. The result was music for four LPs, which eventually were largely reborn as a 2CD set, The Art of the Clarinettist (CC0008). These were followed by two custom-made CDs for Clarinet Classics, The Bel Canto Clarinettist (CC0014) and The Victorian Clarinet Tradition (CC0022), as well as The Obbligato Clarinettist for the Divine Art label. Oliver and Colin’s research has revealed so much valuable material as to put an end once and for all to the belief that the clarinet has only a small repertoire. Nineteenth century fashion my have temporarily banished the wind concerto, but there remains a vast wealth of good music alongside those landmarks of the art by Mozart, Weber and Brahms which we know so well.
Colin and Oliver went on to build broadcast and recital programmes around the discoveries, and their performances have brought the new repertoire to a wide and varied audience. At the time of writing Colin is still playing, teaching, lecturing and adjudicating, as well as publishing much of the newly found music in Lazarus Edition. A second career opened up last year with his being cast in the part of Olly Fisher, a retired clarinettist, in the film Quartet, starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly, and directed by Dustin Hoffman. It is due for release in early January, 2013.