We are so used to the gritty and astringent style of Béla Bartók (1881–1945) that it is often overlooked that he started from a musical and aesthetic background very similar to that of his apparent polar opposite, the precociously gifted but ’’ conventional Erno Dohnányi (1877–1960). Indeed, the two attended the same Catholic grammar school in Pozsony (now Bratislava in Slovakia), Dohnányi just four years ahead of Bartók, and both pupils played the organ at the church attached to the school. Bartók was very conscious of the early and spectacular success enjoyed by Dohnányi, whose piano quintet, written while still a student at the Budapest Academy of Music, so impressed Brahms that the German composer helped arrange for its premiere in Vienna; after graduating, Dohnányi became almost instantly an international success, performing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in London’s Queen’s Hall under the baton of Hans Richter. Bartók hoped to emulate this success, and while in his teens composed several Brahms- influenced works including a piano quintet written just two years after Dohnányi’s. He also greatly admired Dohnányi’s piano playing, and took lessons with him; their relationship was sufficiently cordial for Dohnányi to conduct several of Bartók’s early works.
Rob has tirelessly pursued a particular passion for British clarinet music in concert and on disc, his Gramophone Award winning account of Finzi’s Concerto and Gramophone Award-shortlisted Bax Sonatas being just two of a large collection of recordings of works by the great English Romantics. He has performed and recorded with the Gould Piano Trio for over twenty five years, and their recording of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time to mark the composer’s centenary was hailed by BBC Music Magazine as the ‘finest modern recording’ of this epic masterpiece. He also appears on the Goulds’ recorded cycles of Beethoven and Brahms Trios and makes regular tours to the USA with them. They commissioned Huw Watkins to compose ‘Four Fables’ for them in 2018 in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Corbridge Chamber Music Festival which they direct together in Northumberland. He looks forward to collaborating with the Elias String Quartet in Bliss’ Clarinet Quintet in 2020 and 2021.
Rob has explored the clarinet quintet repertoire with a number of the finest string quartets, opening BBC Radio 3’s ‘Brahms Experience’ with a live broadcast from St. George’s Bristol of the Brahms Quintet with the Skampa Quartet. He has given concerts in Germany and the USA with the Mandelring Quartet and at home in the UK with the Maggini, Carducci, Tippett, Brodsky, Dante and Sacconi Quartets. Rob has enjoyed a 25 year long relationship with the Royal Over-Seas League since winning the competition’s Gold Medal in 1992, highlights of which have included a recital tour of New Zealand and a gala performance of Bruch’s Double Concerto with the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka in Colombo as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.
Always keen to take on a challenge, Rob gave his first performance of Boulez’s ‘Dialogue de l’ombre double’ at the Belfast Sonorities Festival in 2018, a work he subsequently revived in Manchester’s Stoller Hall in 2019. His delving into unjustly neglected works has unearthed concertos by Iain Hamilton, Ruth Gipps and Richard Walthew which he subsequently recorded at Glasgow City Halls with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins. The resulting disc, ‘Reawakened’, was released by Champs Hill Records in July 2020. ‘Contrasts’, a disc of Hungarian repertoire for the same label, was praised by the Guardian as ‘a little gem’ on its release last year.
Rob is principal clarinet of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and has held the same position with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Royal Northern Sinfonia. He was recently appointed Head of Woodwind Performance at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Alec Frank-Gemmill is recognised internationally for the exceptional breadth and depth of his music-making. Principal horn of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, he divides his time between concertos, recitals, chamber music and orchestral playing. He was artist-in-residence at the 2013 Lammermuir Festival and made his Wigmore Hall début that same year. He has since gone on to perform as a soloist at numerous festivals including Spitalfields, Ryedale, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and St Magnus. 8
He was a member of the BBC New Generation Artists scheme from 2014 until 2016, appearing as soloist with the BBC orchestras on numerous occasions, in- cluding performances of rarely heard repertoire by Ethel Smyth, Malcolm Arnold and Charles Koechlin. With his own orchestra, the SCO, he has performed con- certos by Mozart (on the natural horn) with Richard Egarr, Ligeti and Strauss with Robin Ticciati, Schumann with John Eliot Gardiner and MacMillan with Andrew Manze.
A grant from Creative Scotland has enabled him to develop his interest in historical performance. He has long championed the solo repertoire of the baroque era and the use of instruments from the 19th century. Often invited as a guest principal horn, Alec Frank-Gemmill has frequently appeared with the Royal Con- certgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra of Europe. He also appears regularly as part of period-instrument ensembles, most notably with Ensemble Marsyas.
Alec Frank-Gemmill was recently appointed professor of horn at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, having himself studied in Cambridge, London and Berlin with teachers including Hugh Seenan, Radovan Vlatković and Marie-Luise Neunecker. He is the recipient of a Borletti-Buitoni Fellowship, which made this recording possible.