Archive for the “Clarinet” Category
COHEN: Variously Blue; Sea of Reeds; Yedid Nefesh; Grneta Variations. Grneta Ensemble; Jennifer Choi, violin; Maria Lambros, viola. Navona NV5979. 70 minutes.
Gerald Cohen Writes pleasantly engaging music for clarinets, either in featured roles or as equal partners in chamber settings. Sea of Reeds, a collection of chamber compositions for clarinet(s). piano, and (usually) a string instrument, shows the instruments and players off to good effect.
Cohen’s music is eclectic, but it wears that eclecticism lightly–his individual voice always comes through. The influences includes jazz, blues (of the twelve-bar variety), klezmer music, and mainstream American Modernism, with expanded tonal resources, open harmonies, and syncopated rhythms. The pieces are well-written and clearly constructed.
The playing, by the Grneta Ensemble (clarinetists Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski and pianist Alexandra Joan) with violinist Jennifer Choi and violist Maria Lambros, is outstanding–one of the virtues of Cohen’s music is how well the instruments sound and how flattering it is to the players. Navona’s recorded sound is lucid and warm.
Most listeners will find something to like here, and more than a few clarinetists will find something they will want to play.
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A Place Toward Other Places
Richard Hawkins, clarinet;
The Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, Timothy Weiss, conductor
Oberlin Music 2xCD
While not hot off the presses (it was released in 2012), this disc is new to me and I’ve greatly enjoyed spending time with it. Richard Hawkins is a clarinetist with superlative technique and keen musicality. The Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, conducted by Timothy Weiss, accompanies him in enthusiastic fashion. Their rendition of the Carter Clarinet Concerto (1996) is a study in contrasts, with the group playing muscularly while Hawkins spins arcing lines with cool command. There’s a similar dichotomy to be found in the performance of Benjamin Broening’s Clarinet Concerto. This does not in any way show the ensemble in a bad light. In fact, after hearing dozens of cool-as-ice performances by New York and European groups, it is a breathe of fresh air to hear these young musicians dig in con brio! Broening’s piece itself features many thrilling passages and is, as is most of his music, from a formal vantage point exquisitely well sculpted.
Things come into crystalline focus in the recording of the late William Albright’s Clarinet Quintet, with dovetailing strings turning on a dime and staccato and pizzicato passages delivered with precise accuracy. The piece is quite fetching; one hopes that more groups will take it up. The title work, by Aaron Helgeson, closes the proceedings in beautifully ethereal fashion. Hawkins and Weiss are not only a good team musically speaking; their curation of this recording’s program is thoughtful and artful.
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Widmann, clarinet; Heinz Holliger, oboe;
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Christoph Poppen, conductor
ECM New Series 2110
39 year old Jörg Widmann is a virtuoso clarinetist and one of Germany’s rising stars in the realm of music composition. Both of these aspects of his talents are on display in a new portrait disc released by ECM Records. Christoph Poppen, one of the label’s mainstays (another multi-talented musician – a fine violinist and conductor) leads the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie in a program that displays Widmann as a musician with a diversity of interests and a multi-faceted compositional toolkit to match.
The disc’s title work features Widmann playing a plethora of extended techniques, haloed by orchestral writing that is primarily atmospheric with occasional fierce outbursts. Messe, despite its moniker and movement titles mirroring the Ordinary of the liturgy, is for large orchestra sans voices. Fastidious attention is given to contrapuntal details in several “contrapuncti” movements. Elsewhere a juxtaposition of weighty tutti and long-breathed angular melodies provide some surprising textural shifts.
Fünf Bruchstücke (1997) are early works that feature clarinet and oboe. The latter duties are fulfilled by oboist/composer Heinz Holliger (another formidable double threat!). The two are given many opportunities to display the extended technical capabilities of their respective instruments. But it is the sense of cat and mouse interaction and the energetic elan that typifies much of the compositions’ demeanor that make them far more captivating than many a virtuoso showcase.
Widmann weds musicality and technical facility seamlessly. While the episodic nature of this program gives tantalizing glimpses of his potential, one looks forward to the composer/clarinetist expanding his horizons to larger formal designs on a future recording.
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Reto Bieri, clarinet
Works by Berio, Carter, Eötvös, Holliger, Sciarrino, and Vajda
ECM New Series CD 2209
One of the best recital discs I heard in 2011 did not feature an instrument typically associated with the genre. Contrechant is a disc comprised of all contemporary works performed by Swiss clarinetist Reto Bieri. All solos: no piano accompaniment or contributions from other instrumentalists. But the proceedings are hardly monophonic or monochromatic. Even Luciano Berio’s Lied (1983), which opens the disc with a phrase or so gently articulated “song-like” melody, does not remain a “single line” piece for long: this texture is complicated by repeated note ostinati and wide-ranging leaps. While Lied isn’t as hypervirtuosic as the clarinet Sequenza, it proves to be an elegant introduction to the rigorous material that will be found on the disc, as well as the formidable technical skill and focused interpretative powers possessed by Bieri. Indeed, Contrechant is a showcase for the clarinet’s versatility and its extensive repertoire of extended techniques.
A case in point is “Lightshadow-trembling,” by Hungarian (now residing in the US) composer, conductor, and clarinetist Gergely Vajda. The piece spends a great deal of its duration requiring the clarinetist to perform pedal tones in conjunction with a compound melody and copious trilling, creating a far denser texture than many listeners would assume possible when presented with the mislabel “single line instrument.” After this sustained, breathless (or, rather, circular breathed) flurry, late in the piece, Vajda allows the clarinetist to attack single sustained notes: the resultant starkness is startling. This was the first piece I’ve heard from Vajda: I look forward to hearing more.
One of Vajda’s teachers, the acclaimed composer and conductor Peter Eötvös, contributes a very different work: Derwischtánz. It is lyrical and questing, with beautiful runs that start in the chalumeau register and cascade up to long, sustained, pianissimo notes in the instrument’s upper register to end each phrase. A few trills at the work’s close seem to serve as foreshadowing for Vajda’s later perambulations.
“Let me die before I wake,” by Salvatore Sciarrino revels in extended techniques, such as multiphonics and whistle tones. But these never seem gimmicky; instead they give the clarinet an otherworldly, “sci-fi” ambiance that is quite haunting. Virtuoso oboist and composer Heinz Holliger knows a thing or two about wind instruments. His Contrechant (2007) cast in five short movements, takes up where Sciarrino leaves off, putting the clarinet through its paces, including extraordinary measures: slap tonguing, extended glissandi, vocalizations, microtones, and altissimo register squalls. It is a bracing, yet dramatically compelling, ultra-modernist composition. More reflective, although still possessing considerable angularity and a wildly shifting demeanor, is Rechant (2008), a through-composed companion piece.
This is Bieri’s second recording of Elliott Carter’s Gra (1993), one of the ‘early’ works of the now 103 year-old composer’s ‘late’ period. It is one of a number of relatively brief single movement piecess that Carter penned during the 90s and 00s and, I believe, one of his best. In Gra, for the most part Carter eschews the special effects employed by the aforementioned composers; he instead displays absolute command, both of the instrument’s idiomatic capabilities and of a rigorously compressed harmonic and gestural language. The piece’s exquisite pacing and, for Carter, relatively new found directness of expression, make it one of the great works for solo clarinet. Since his first recording of the piece, Bieri’s interpretation has grown, is ever more sure-footed and specific in all of its details: I’m glad he recorded it a second time. Let’s hope ECM invites him back to make another CD. Pairing him with one of the label’s many talented pianists could make for a deadly duo disc.
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CRUMB: Eleven Echoes of Autumn, 1965 (Echoes I); The Sleeper; Vox Balaenae; Five Pieces for Piano; Dream Sequence. Jamie Van Eyck, ms; International Contemporary Ensemble. Bridge 9261. 72 minutes.
This release of some of George Crumb’s early (mostly) mature works is Volume 12 of Bridge’s Complete Crumb Edition. Most Sequenza21 readers are undoubtedly familiar with Crumb’s style, which combines an expanded tonality sensibility, an extraordinarily sensitive ear for color (often expressed in a plethora of special instrumental effects), and a keen feeling for ritual to make directly expressive musical statements.
The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), joined by the talented mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck for The Sleeper, turn in outstanding performances. When Crumb doesn’t work for me, it tends to be because the performance falls into being a kind of catalog of special effects, but there’s no hint of that here. The effects are seamlessly integrated into the musical flow.
The big pieces here are Eleven Echoes of Autumn, 1965 (Echoes I) (1966), Vox Balaenae (1971), and Dream Sequence (Images II), (1976). All of the characteristics of Crumb’s mature style listed above are in full flower in these works. Of special interest to me is the spectacularly assured reading given Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale, for amplified flute, amplified cello, and amplified piano), one of the composer’s signature pieces. The ICEers (Claire Chase, flute, Kivie Cahn-Lipman, cello, and Jacob Greenberg, piano) play this moving (and difficult) score as if they were born to it.
Bridge’s Crumb series continues to be an important tribute to an iconic American composer.
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FELDMAN: Clarinet and String Quartet; BABBITT: Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet. Mark Lieb, clarinet; Phoenix Ensemble. Innova 746. 63 minutes.
We spend a lot of time, energy, and words on the differences in art—what separates artists, what makes for different styles, what distinguishes one period from another, etc. Occasionally we are nudged into hearing these things in a different light by unusual juxtapositions of pieces in a concert program or on a recording.
It is tempting, easy in fact, to hear the music of Morton Feldman and Milton Babbitt as irreconcilably opposed. Where Feldman is expansive, Babbitt compressed; where Babbitt bubbles, Feldman flows.
This disc, however, almost forces us to hear the common ground between these two totems of the mid-century style wars. The two pieces are wholly characteristic of the composers’ mature style, yet their common instrumentation (and their juxtaposition on the disc) highlighted their similarities. This is also due in part to the beautifully nuanced performances by clarinetist Mark Lieb and members of the Phoenix Ensemble.
Specifically, I am struck by the expressive/structural use of register in both pieces. Both Feldman and Babbitt use the return to and movement away from pitches fixed in a particular register as markers in the progress of the piece. I wonder if there’s been much analysis/research on the use of register in music of the second half of the twentieth-century, because it seems to me to be a uniting factor in an era known for adversarial diversity.
This is an outstanding recording. Highly recommended for fans of the genre and either or both composers.
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CARTER: Horn Concerto; Mad Regales; Tintinnabulation; Wind Rose; Sound Fields; On Conversing with Paradise; Retracing I, II, III; Clarinet Quintet; Figment III, IV, V; La Musique; Due Duetti; Poems of Louis Zukofsky. Martin Owen, horn; BBC Symphony/Oliver Knussen; BBC Singers; New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble/Frank Epstein; Leigh Melrose, baritone, Birmingham Conteporary Music Group/ Oliver Knussen; Peter Kolkay, bassoon; Charles Neidich, clarinet; Juilliard String Quartet; Simon Boyar, marimba; Lucy Shelton, soprano; Jon Nelson, trumpet; Rolf Schulte, violin; Fred Sherry, violoncello; Donald Palma, contrabass; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola; William Purvis, horn. Bridge 9314 A/B [2CD]. 103 minutes.
Anyone who has read my blog or my reviews here knows that Elliott Carter’s music means a lot to me. I’ve learned so much from his music it would be hard to list everything. Most important, though, is that I love how it sounds and its expressive depth. I’m not surprised then, when people ask me what pieces would be a good introduction.
With this new set of pieces, most of which were written between 2007 and 2009, I have my answer. This album includes virtually every kind of piece Carter has composed during his long career as well as a few that venture into what are, for him, very new areas.
The Horn Concerto and the Clarinet Quintet are major instrumental works, the kinds of piece Carter is best known for. The Concerto (like most of Carter’s concertos for solo instruments) explores and extends several aspects of the expressive nature of the instrument, in this case the horn’s lyrical and majestic sides in a series of short episodes with shifting orchestral accompaniment. Martin Owen’s performance of the solo part is expressive and assured.
The Quintet has a different formal approach, though one that Carter has used in the past. The piece is one continuous stream of music (14 minutes long) that is divided into five clearly recognizable movements. The majority of the piece is lyrical nature, but the occasional outburst, usually from the strings, provides the dramatic contrast that animates most of Carter’s music. Carter regulars Charles Neidich and the Juilliard Quartet play this piece with style and understanding.
Carter wrote a good deal of choral and vocal music in the early part of his career. As he developed his characteristic style he concentrated on instrumental music until returning to the voice in earnest in the 1970s. This program includes a piece for unaccompanied voice, a cycle of songs for voice and clarinet, a cycle of songs for voice and small orchestra, and piece for a choir of six voices. These pieces are settings of texts by Modern poets of a variety of backgrounds. On Conversing with Paradise, is a setting of excerpts of some of Ezra Pound’s Cantos and an excellent example of the composer’s dramatic settings, with its somewhat menacing percussion in contrast to the stark support of the strings and winds.
The three Figments and three Retracings are part of Carter’s tendency in recent years to write very short pieces for performance in solo recitals. The Retracings are reworkings of significant solo lines from larger compositions, like the trumpet solo that opens A Symphony of Three Orchestras, here given a vivid performance by Jon Nelson as Retracing III. In addition to providing solo instrumentalists with short, substantial pieces to play, these miniatures are demonstrations of the composer’s interest in and ability to write strong, if not exactly tuneful, melodies.
Due Duetti is a two-movement piece for violin and cello. In this performance by Carter veterans Rolf Schulte and Fred Sherry, Due Duetti comes across like a miniature (both in instrumentation and scale) version of one of Carter’s string quartets. The transparent texture and condensed scale are both characteristic of Carter’s recent music.
The revelations on this disc (as least for me) are three pieces for large, homogeneous ensembles, the first such pieces of his career. Tintinnabulation (percussion ensemble), Wind Rose (wind ensemble), and Sound Fields (string orchestra) are studies in color and texture. Tintinnabulation is restricted in its being made entirely of non-pitched percussion; its musical argument, then, is made almost entirely through changes of color. Wind Rose and Sound Fields make theirs through contrasts in thickness and subtle shifts in color. These pieces are reminiscent of middle period Morton Feldman in their insistence on finding musical expression in their limited resources.
Listeners with an interest in this composer will find something of value in this collection. The performances are outstanding and the sound is very good. Longtime Carter annotator Bayan Northcott’s notes are informative and insightful.
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PACCIONE: Rhapsody; Stations–To Morton Feldman; Inscape: Three Choral Settings from Gerard Manley Hopkins; A Page for Will; Three Motets: Arabesques; Five Songs from Christina Rossetti; “Postlude,” from Planxty Cage. Molly Paccione, cl; Jenny Perron, p; Michael Campbell, p; Western Illinois University Singers/James Stegall; Nurit Tilles, p; Terry Chasteen, tenor; Moisés Molina, vcl; Andrea Molina, p. New World 80706-2. 57 minues.
[DISCLAIMER: I’ve known Paul Paccione and his music for many, many years. The following may be read with this in mind.]
Paul Paccione’s music has always been concerned with the manipulation of musical space/time. That is, Paccione reconceives musical geometry (x=time, y-space) as a canvas on which musical objects are placed, like figures or brushstrokes in an abstract painting or drawing. These objects—chords and/or melodic gestures—retain their identity through repetition rather than development. Structure is projected through placement of objects at different coordinates on the musical canvas.
The result is a musical abstract expressionism that has developed over the years in surprising and gratifying ways. I first learned of Paccione and his music in the late ‘70s, when he was coming into his own as a disciple of Morton Feldman. His music at that time was quiet and sparse, with subtle melodic threads. His sense of color was (and is) so keen that a performance of his music gave a feeling of voluptuous austerity. In early pieces like Stations–To Morton Feldman (1987) the music is extremely spare—splashes of color on a blank temporal field, with a great deal of expressive silence.
In more recent years Paccione has embraced tonality, but his music still sounds like him. The Rhapsody for clarinet and piano (2005) is a good example. A lean piano part limns out a slow, non-dramatic chord progression in triplet eighth-note arpeggios while the clarinet plays lyrical melodic lines mostly above it. It’s as if the gentle triplets in the piano have replaced the blank canvas as a surface to be painted on.
The vocal or choral music Paccione composed early in his career was either wordless or was a setting of a short text that moved so slowly it may as well have been textless. In the pieces offered here, Inscape: Three Choral Settings from Gerard Manley Hopkins (2007) and Five Songs from Christina Rossetti (2003), the non-dramatic but lyrical presentation of the texts serves as a vehicle for the composer’s characteristic tone explorations.
My favorite piece on this recording is the Three Motets: Arabesques (1999), for four prerecorded clarinets. These motets are simple—contrapuntal in the extreme, they are made of short, tonally-enigmatic melodic gestures that are imitated by subsequent instrumental entrances. The result is a haunting, subtly and constantly changing soundscape.
The performances and recording here are of the highest quality. Paccione teaches at Western Illinois University, and most of the performers are his colleagues there. Several pieces were written for clarinetist Molly Paccione, the composer’s wife, and her readings show deep understanding of the music.
Not unlike Elliott Carter’s “time screen” in concept, but very different in practice.
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Concerto No. 2 for Cello (1973)
Concerto for Strings (1977)
Trio for Clarinet, cello & Piano (1973)
Enrico Bronzi, I Musici di Parma
At least two impressed me tremendously about this program of three major works by Nino Rota (1911-1978). The first was the way in which the composer gets right to the heart of the matter, launching right into the substance of all three works without any preface or slow introduction. We see in this the discipline carefully honed in decades as a film composer, a field in which you are not permitted the luxury of any time at all to make an impression on your audience. There is no fat on any of these works. As in Rota’s film scores for Federico Fellini, the emotion is direct and incisive. As in his film music, Rota is marvelously adept at conjuring up just the right mood, whether it be spontaneous joy, sadness, or melancholy, bringing a sparkle or a tear to our eye in the process. He often reflected on “the eternal dilemma – how can we be happy amid the unhappiness of others?” Consequently, his music can be beautiful or grotesque, it can verge on tragedy or lift our spirits playfully, and all without any trace of the neurosis too often evident in modern music. To do so, for the composer, requires a whole, balanced view of life. That is perhaps harder to find outside of Rota’s Italy than we might imagine.
The zestful performances by Enrico Bronzi and I Musici di Parma (despite the sound of their name, not a small chamber ensemble but an orchestra of 35 pieces with a compliment of woodwinds to balance the strings) keep things moving right along, never losing the deft, incisive pulse that is a trademark of this composer. The performances of cellist Bronzi and the other members of the Trio di Parma, which include clarinetist Alessandro Carbonare and pianist Alberto Miodini, are warm and gracious without departing from the strong, dominant rhythms that predominate in both the Cello Concerto and the Trio. In these works, as in the Concerto for Strings, one is impressed by both the verve and the economy of Rota’s writing. His writing for the strings, which are the soul of the orchestra, both structurally and expressively, is inspired. If the harmonic richness and the process by which the composer moves from one harmony to another in the Clarinet Trio is essentially Romantic (reminding me inescapably of Brahms, who wrote another major work in the same genre), the ferocity with which he takes the finale movement of the Concerto for Strings reminded me of Shostakovich, again without either the bitter irony or the grotesque humor that the Russian composer might have employed. Inescapably, visual images of Giulietta Massina, the funny yet pathetic heroine of Fellini’s La Strada, kept popping into my mind while listening to this music. Rota’s art is a subtle one.
The other thing that impressed me about this offering from Concerto Music-Media was the recorded sound, which was startlingly real and naturalistic, as if one were in the actual presence of performers. This is truly audiophile-class sound. It is claimed that this is a 64-bit digital recording. If so, it is the first time I can recall seeing any CD offering so advertised.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Clarinet, Jay Batzner, OgreOgress, Piano, tags: bassoon, CD Review, chamber music, Clarinet, Hovhaness, Jay Batzner, oboe, OgreOgress, Piano, strings
cd cover art
Hovhaness: solos, duos, and trios
music of Alan Hovhaness
Paul Hersey, piano; Christina Fong, violin|viola; Libor Soukal, bassoon; Jirí Å estí¡k, oboe; Karen Krummel, cello; Michael Kornacki & John Varineau, clarinets; Christopher Martin, viola
Trio I for piano, violin & cello Op. 3 (1935)
Sonata Ricercare for piano Op. 12 (1935)
Artinis ‘Urardüan Sun God’ for piano Op. 39 (1945)
Suite for oboe & bassoon Op. 23 (1949)
Poseidon Sonata for piano Op. 191 (1957)
Bardo Sonata for piano Op. 192 (1959)
Sonatina for piano Op. 120 (1962)
Trio for strings Op. 201 (1962)
Three Haikus for piano Op. 113 (1965)
Night of a White Cat for clarinet & piano Op. 263 (1973)
Sonata for 2 bassoons Op. 266 (1973)
Sonata for 2 clarinets Op. 297 (1977)
Sonata for oboe & bassoon Op. 302 (1977)
Sonata for viola Op. 423 (1992)
The vastly prolific composer Alan Hovhaness gets captured in a time capsule of chamber music in this OgreOgress release. This 126 minute DVD-A disc (96kHz|24bit for you audiophiles out there) contains a full fourteen chamber pieces, thirteen of which are getting premiere recordings. The chronological ordering of works provides a journey from Hovhaness’ early populist tonal/modal style through his initial experiments with his better known Eastern influenced mystical language. There are pieces from each decade of Hovhaness’ productivity so if you are wanting a sampler of Hovhaness’ chamber output, there really isn’t a better place to start than this recording.
While probably better known for his symphonies, Hovhannes is equally skilled at writing his musical ideas in chamber form. The disc is crammed full of top notch performances and the audio quality of the disc is stunning. The solo piano works are rich with harmonics. The string trio sounds as if they are right in front of you. I was especially struck by the overtones in Libor Soukal’s bassoon sound in the Op. 23 Suite for oboe and bassoon.
There is no one large, dominating work on this disc which again makes it enjoyable for hearing the evolution of Hovhannes’ style and also encouraging performers to take up more of his chamber music. As I first listened to the disc, I was surprised at the style of the earlier pieces but the through line of Hovhaness’ development seemed as natural as breathing air. Then, when I started over with the early piano trio, I was amazed at how much of the later music is hidden in the earlier. Flirtations with modality in the early pieces evolve into raga-esque melodies a few decades down the road.
Each performance on this disc is well crafted from the performer to the ensemble through to the recording. The musical language overall is accessible and just plain pretty. I was especially fond of the piano trio, the piano sonatina, the string trio, Night of a White Cat, and the solo viola sonata. That is quite possibly more music than I would get on a standard CD. The fact that I get all the other works, which I also enjoyed, is a major bonus. OgreOgress is doing it right with good music, great performers and performances, and excellent recordings.
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