Audio Reviews October 2020
Listen to the majority of these recordings in the ICA October Reviews Spotify Playlist!
Single Reed Expressions: A Clarinet & Saxophone Recital Series Volume 7. Ronald L. Caravan, clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Sar-Shalom Strong, piano. L. Bernstein: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano; S. Adler: Canto XIV, A Klezmer Fantasy for Clarinet Solo; Canto IV for Alto Saxophone; R. Starer: Dialogues for Clarinet and Piano; A. Templeton: Pocket Size Sonata for Clarinet and Piano; J.Worley: Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano; E. Siegmeister: Around New York for Alto Saxophone and Piano; R. Caravan: Soliloquy and Celebration for Soprano Saxophone and Piano, “ A Tribute to the Classic Jazz Saxophonist Paul Desmond.”; E. de Coriolis: Tarentelle for Oboe and Piano (performed with soprano saxophone and piano). Mark Records, 51607-MCD. Total Time: 72:00.
This is the seventh volume of Ronald Caravan’s Single Reed Expressions series. With Caravan being both a clarinetist and saxophonist, each album in the series features music for both instruments. According to the liner notes, “each of the discs features at least one composer whose works for both clarinet and saxophone are represented, and each of the discs include at least one of Dr. Caravan’s own compositions.” After listening to the entire album, it becomes very apparent that Caravan’s primary instrument is saxophone. The first half of the album that features the clarinet is technically sound but lacks the nuance and expressive quality that is showcased on the saxophone portion of the album. However, it should be noted that Caravan’s clarinet playing does shine on the unaccompanied work by Samuel Adler entitled Canto XIV, A Klezmer Fantasy. Adler is also showcased on the second half of the CD with his composition Canto IV, for Alto Saxophone. This piece also features microtones, smears, and growls. Caravan is well known for his extended techniques on both single reed instruments, which makes listening to both of these Adler works a real delight. Caravan’s own Soliloquy and Celebration, for Soprano Saxophone and Piano is a tribute piece for Paul Desmond. While the piece is not jazz per se, it does pay homage to Desmond in the second movement with a groovy piano line with irregular meter. The album concludes with an amusing tarantella by Emmanuel de Coriolis that was originally written for oboe. While some of the mixes on this album are a bit unbalanced, this great album displays a variety of music for both clarinet and saxophone.
– Jeremy Wohletz
Lines at Dusk: John McGuire. John McGuire, horn; Kevin Chance, piano; Wesley Ferreira, clarinet; The Fortress Brass Quintet: Bradley Ulrich, trumpet; Eric Yates, trumpet; John McGuire, horn; Bradley Kerns, trombone; Michael Dunn, tuba. T. Mendel: Landscapes, Series II; Lines at Dusk: Hymn to the Rising Moon; Nocturne; J. M. David: Batuque; O. Ketting: Intrada; B. Kroll: Laudatio; A. Posin: Brass Quintet No. 1. Navona Records, NV6267. Total Time: 54:00.
Lines at Dusk features many works written for French hornist John McGuire. McGuire has won several awards and his talents shine through on this wonderfully diverse collection of works. The CD includes a booklet with beautiful artwork; however, the liner notes and composer bios are not included for the last three pieces. The album begins with two pieces, Landscapes, Series II and Lines at Dusk: Hymn to the Rising Moon by composer Traci Mendel. These two pieces are very meditative and allow McGuire to show off not only his tone, but also his mastery of phrasing cells of pitches into a picturesque landscape. The Mendel set is followed by Nocturne, which was written for McGuire by his colleague James M. David. Another colleague of McGuire, clarinetist Wesley Ferreira is featured on the following multi-movement work, Batuque. The first movement begins as a sort of call and response between the horn and clarinet. While the clarinet first enters in the chalumeau range, Ferreira maintains the same beautiful, warm tone throughout, including in the altissimo when the horn and clarinet are in octaves. The second movement has dance-like polyrhythms and includes the same call and response techniques from earlier, but with some added special effects and a driving groove from the piano. Ferreira again displays a gorgeous tone throughout the range of the instrument, but also his technical prowess in these very amusing dance rhythms. There are two pieces for unaccompanied horn and the album concludes with a brass quintet. Overall, this is a well-balanced and well-paced album, with a wide range of styles and ensembles.
– Jeremy Wohletz
Beethoven Transformed, Volume 1: Boxwood & Brass. Boxwood & Brass: Emily Worthington, clarinet; Fiona Mitchell, clarinet; Anneke Scott, natural horn; Kate Goldsmith, natural horn; Robert Percival, bassoon; Takako Kunugi, bassoon. L. van Beethoven/arr. C. Czerny: Septet in E-flat major, Op. 20, Sextet in E-flat major, Op. 71. Resonus Classics, RES10249. Total Time: 61:40.
Boxwood and Brass, an ensemble of period wind players and specialists of wind music from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, has assembled a wonderful album of Harmoniemusik by Beethoven. Entitled, Beethoven Transformed, this album presents Carl Czerny’s arrangement of Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 and Beethoven’s Sextet in E-flat Major, Op. 71 for two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons.
Czerny’s arrangement of the Septet is well-suited to the Harmonie ensemble and is performed brilliantly by Boxwood and Brass. The first clarinetist, bassoonist and hornist handle the string parts with ease and the musical skill of the group is evident through their technical virtuosity and sensitive phrasing. The ensemble writes that although it is unusual to find such virtuosic writing in Harmoniemusik from this time, Czerny’s arrangement remains within the capabilities of the early 19th-century instruments aside from a few phrases that push the limits of breath control for the clarinetists.
Despite Beethoven’s lack of enthusiasm for his Sextet, it contains many lyrical and conversational moments for the musicians and was well-received by audience members of the time. One charming moment is the opening of the second movement where the melody is first played lyrically by the bassoon and later echoed by the clarinets. The third movement starts energetically with a horn call that evolves into an animated minuet and trio. Boxwood and Brass performs this work with a strong sense of familiarity, and the spirit of the Sextet is encapsulated by the group’s clear understanding of Beethoven’s musical style.
The playing on this album is remarkable and Beethoven’s works allow each instrument to be featured. The fluid tone and dazzling technique of clarinetists, Emily Worthington and Fiona Mitchell, is highlighted throughout the album. Both musicians perform on clarinets modeled after the instruments of Heinrich Grenser (circa 1810). Bassoonists, Robert Percival and Takako Kunugi, transition effortlessly between lyrical solo playing and supporting motor rhythms, while natural hornists, Anneke Scott and Kate Goldsmith, reinforce dramatic moments with precision and control. The strong connection of the ensemble is apparent through their delicate phrasing, wide dynamic range, uniform style of articulations and tonal blend. Another notable aspect of this album is the thorough and informative liner notes by Percival and Worthington with detailed descriptions of the history behind these works. This is a must-have disc for Harmoniemusik enthusiasts!
– Kylie Stultz-Dessent
4 Woods + 1 Sax Play Rameau, Mozart and Ravel. Vienna Reed Quintet: Heri Choi, oboe, English horn; Heinz-Peter Linshalm, clarinet; Alfred Reiter, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Petra Stump-Linshalm, bass clarinet; Sophie Dartigalongue, bassoon. J.P. Rameau/arr. Raaf Hekkema: Suite: La Triomphante; W. A. Mozart/arr. Jelte Althuis: Fantasia in F minor, K. 608; M. Ravel/arr. Raaf Hekkema: Le Tombeau de Couperin. Naxos Records, 8.579021. Total Time: 62:48.
4 Woods + 1 Sax play Rameau, Mozart and Ravel by the Vienna Reed Quintet features an exquisite collection of music. As a relatively new chamber music genre, the reed quintet evolved just a few decades ago out of the traditional woodwind quintet. The ensemble type subtracts the flute and horn from the wind quintet and replaces them with saxophone and bass clarinet. The Vienna Reed Quintet is the first ensemble with this type of instrumentation on the Austrian chamber music scene. Heri Choi (oboe), Heinz-Peter Linshalm (clarinet), Alfred Reiter (saxophone), Petra Stump-Linshalm (bass clarinet) and Sophie Dartigalongue (bassoon), present a fresh and unusual ensemble.
The compositions on the CD are fascinating arrangements of keyboard music for reed quintet. Programmed in chronological order, the tracks introduce novel versions of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Suite: La Triomphante (1726/7, originally for piano), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Fantasia in F minor, K. 608 (originally for organ) and Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin (1914-17, originally for piano). Hearing these compositions performed by an all-reeds group is remarkably fulfilling. The synchronicity of rhythm and phrase execution is incredibly unified when divided among the five players. The variety of textures and timbral combinations presented in each of the works is both interesting and engaging, and provides and enriching version of these works that would otherwise be confined to the keyboard literature.
Besides the refined musicality of this ensemble, the most impressive element is its perfect blend at all times. Dynamics, phrasing, articulation and other stylistic features are all meticulously matched within a multi-layered homogeneity. Considering the different playing tendencies and traditions for each instrument, one can appreciate the musicality and skill level of the ensemble members creating a shared musical vision.
– Barbara Heilmair
W.A. Mozart: Serenade in Bb, K. 361. Toronto Chamber Winds: Winston Webber, conductor; Harry Sargous, oboe; David Sussman, oboe; James Campbell, clarinet; Gwillym Williams, clarinet; David Bourque, basset horn; Daniel Leeson, basset horn; Christopher Weait, bassoon; Mitchell Clarke, bassoon; R. Scott Wilson, horn; Miles Hearn, horn; Wayne Jeffrey, horn; Gary Pattison, horn; Peter Madgett, double bass. W.A. Mozart: Serenade in Bb, K. 361 (370a) (Serenade No. 10, Gran Partita) for 12 Winds and Double Bass. Crystal Records, CD646. Total Time: 49:31.
Released in 1982, this premiere recording by the Toronto Chamber Winds presents Mozart’s iconic chamber work, Serenade in Bb, K. 361, Gran Partita, in its fully intended splendor. The ensemble’s distinct perspective on this work is the commitment to historical accuracy; the performance is based upon the original autograph and guided by the research of Daniel Leeson. Leeson is a frequently published Mozart specialist who served as an editor for the 1979 Bärenreiter publication of Mozart’s music based upon original manuscripts. Leeson also served as a member of the Toronto Chamber Winds, performing on basset horn alongside David Bourque on this recording. In his thorough program notes, Leeson explains the 18th-century performance practice of improvised embellishment on the melodic line, a practice adopted ably by the Toronto Chamber Winds. As Leeson notes, these embellishments may be disconcerting to those familiar with the piece or mistaken to be part of the original manuscript, yet the ensemble felt a responsibility to demonstrate this rare performance practice and indeed does so with great skill.
To any listener unfamiliar with the Toronto Chamber Winds, active from 1979 to 1985, this recording provides a fine introduction. The ensemble combined members of the Toronto Symphony, the Canadian Ballet Orchestra and the Hamilton Philharmonic. Known for their effortless cohesion, conductors were rarely employed, although this recording was among the few conducted performances with Winston Webber at the podium.
The entire ensemble is exceptionally well-balanced throughout this exacting hour of music, and the clarinetists are an outstanding pairing within it. James Campbell and Gwillym Williams exchange jovial, delicate musical rapport and Campbell’s graceful improvised ornamentation is a sly smile upon Mozart’s already wondrous writing. The interpretation of the work is full-bodied without becoming overdone; the basset horns and bassoons maintain impressive lightness to keep the work moving forward and add richness to the lush melodic sections. This is a noteworthy presentation of Mozart’s beloved chamber work; its unique historical detail argues it be considered a seminal one as well.
– Emily Kerski
Echoes of America: Chamber Music of Robert Ward. Aurora Musicalis: Jimmy Gilmore, clarinet; Elizabeth Beilman, cello; John Ruggero, piano; The Aspen Wind Quintet: Barli Nugent, flute; Claudia Coonce, oboe; David Krakauer, clarinet; Celeste-Marie Roy, bassoon; Kaitlin Mahony, horn; Amadeus Trio: Stephen Shipps, violin; Robert Marsh, cello; Eric Larsen, piano. R. Ward: Echoes of America Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano; Appalachian Ditties and Dances; Raleigh Divertimento Quintet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon; Lamentation for Solo Piano; Scherzo for Solo Piano; Dialogues for Violin, Cello and Piano. Albany Records, TROY 323. Total Time 67:25.
Echoes of America features two clarinet ensemble works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Robert Ward, deftly performed by Aurora Musicalis and The Aspen Wind Quintet.
The disc opens with the titular trio for clarinet, cello and piano, commissioned by the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild and completed in 1997 for the composer’s 80th birthday. The four classically structured movements of the work evoke the sounds of southeastern America, drawing from the Moravian culture of Pennsylvania, folk music of the Appalachians, early jazz, blues and more.
This diverse musical tour demands great stamina and virtuosity of the performers, and Aurora Musicalis surely delivers. Clarinetist Jimmy Gilmore and cellist Elizabeth Beilman share an unrelenting energetic interplay from the very first phrase. The frequent unison lines of cello and clarinet are captivating in their impeccable intonation, precisely matched depth of articulation and beautiful legato. Gilmore’s shimmering altissimo lends itself well to the many expressive leaps in the moments of mournful melody as well as the angular, constantly shifting allegro movements which frame the work.
The disc features a second Raleigh Chamber Music Guild commission in the form of a wind quintet, Raleigh Divertimento, premiered in 1986 by the renowned Aspen Wind Quintet. Clarinetist David Krakauer shines with characteristic colorful expression throughout the work’s two movements, an Allegro followed by a theme and variations. The two lyrical themes of the second movement undoubtedly evoke a certain open-spaced, Copland-like Americana. The concluding finale reveals the quintet’s technical expertise and the artistic flair that can be developed only by a longstanding chamber ensemble such as this one.
The liner notes feature descriptions of each work by the composer himself, further inviting the listener to become familiar with this inventive and distinguished American voice. Robert Ward’s works are a refreshing addition to the wind chamber repertoire and the performances in this recording by accomplished clarinetists who worked with him are a true delight.
– Emily Kerski