Reflections – ArkivMusic
Had this sort of collection been released a few years ago, it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun: It would have been full of 12-tone angst. But times have changed (for the better!) and these five free-spirited American composers have found intriguing ways to combine tonality and atonality, melody and dissonance. Above all, it is an extraordinarily well-played and well-produced recording. The Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra responds alertly and with stylistic awareness to conductor Jerzy Swoboda and soloist Richard Stoltzman, and the sound is full and detailed.
Jazz influence is present in some works, but as an assimilated aspect of American musical vocabulary. Daniel James Perlongo’s Sunburst consciously evokes John Coltrane, while Anthony Iannaccone’s Concertante has pitch-bending techniques as part of the work’s wider-ranging outlook. Paraph, by Gordon (Dick) Goodwin, is an exultant treatment of one clarinetist’s personal reed-testing figuration, and Keith Lay’s Earth Caoine exploits the clarinet’s piercing highest register in the disc’s most tragic piece. (Caoine, the Irish root of “keening”, means a wailing for the dead.)
Andrew Stiller’s Procrustean Concerto, the program’s strangest work, is in two wildly diverse movements. The first, “Interview with the Dissidents”, breaks the orchestra into voices that don’t ever seem to agree on what they should be doing. Sometimes a referee’s whistle starts a mad, Ivesian scramble, and then a viola appears to lead the clarinet out of the melée by quoting Berlioz’s Harold in Italy. By contrast, the second movement extensively uses hocket, a compositional device originating in medieval music where different melodic strands are tightly interlocked through alternating notes and rests, and whose execution requires precise cooperation among the players. A Chilean melody plays hypnotically in hocket while variations on that tune unfold organically in the orchestra. Meanwhile, the clarinet makes wild atonal utterances before being abruptly deserted by the orchestra and left to wind down by itself.
Besides the music, the disc exemplifies another modern trend: Even though it features Richard Stoltzman, a true super-star of his instrument with many distinguished major-label recordings, this adventurous release is on the distinctly minor-label MMC Recordings. You probably won’t find it in your local record and book chain store. Don’t worry. If you’re reading this, you know how to find the good stuff. And this is good stuff.
– Joseph Stevenson, ClassicsToday.com
The music on this release, given its stylistic diversity and sheer technical demands, could be a clarinetist’s worse nightmare. To Richard Stoltzman, it’s all a walk in the park. All of the composers are tonally oriented mid-20th-century born Americans. Each has a distinctive and memorable voice.
Michigan-born Daniel James Perlongo’s teachers were George Balch Wilson, Leslie Basset, Ross Lee Finney, and Godfredo Petrassi — a fine musical pedigree by any measure. Perlongo also worked as a jazz pianist for many years, an experience that informs his composed music in subtle ways having less to do with overt style than with imbuing it with a steady pulse, a sensitivity to instrumental color, and a feeling of improvisational spontaneity. Sunburst, composed in 1995, starts with a flash from the entire orchestra initiated by the lower percussion. Its up-surging motive is immediately reflected by the clarinet. A dialogue between soloist and orchestra is quickly established — the orchestra supplying the motoric rock above which the clarinet posits a fluid, seemingly improvisatory line. This is, however, an illusion. All thematic material is spun from the piece’s opening gesture. Tempo and rhythm remain a constant, despite the two moments of lyrical relaxation occurring at the piece’s midpoint and its end. These, too, are an illusion. The apparent relaxation of pulse is a result of strict melodic augmentation. The pulse remains steady. The virtues that inform this piece — melodic minimalism (in the manner of Haydn and Beethoven, not Glass, or Riley), handsome orchestration, and cogent symphonic development — inform the remaining pieces on this release.
Keith Lay (b. 1958) started his career as a purveyor of both concert and electronic music. Born in Ohio, he ultimately set up shop in central Florida. He defines the unusual title of his piece: “Caoine is an Irish word meaning a piercing wail over a corpse,” and that is established by the clarinet’s opening notes in its most stratospheric register. Whimpering downward glissandos set the mood for all that follows — an affectively diverse symphonic arch projecting many aspects of mourning, including the inevitable feelings of irretrievable loss, abandonment, anger, and, in its closing bars, solace and healing. The piece is metaphorical, at once a realization of a universal catharsis that comes from the grieving process, and Lay’s personal keening over the worldwide environmental losses promulgated by our current socio-economic systems.
Gordon (Dick) Goodwin, aka The Jazz Guy, is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of South Carolina. Prior to that, he taught composition and theory and ran the jazz program at the University of Texas after having served as a band director in the US Coast Guard. He is, as are all the composers represented here, a practical musician with credits as a composer, performer, arranger, and studio producer. If one expects to hear jazz á la Gershwin, Duke Ellington, or Miles Davis in Paraph, one will be disappointed. As in the case of Perlongo, Goodwin has deeply submerged those elements into a purely symphonic effort. Paraph was inspired by a habit of a clarinet-playing friend of his, R. Douglass Graham, who would test his reeds by blowing a brief one-handed series of pitches into them before fastening the ligature. That mini-motive provides the grist for the kaleidoscopic 10-minute piece that follows. Goodwin manipulates it in fine Classical style, teasing out a fine series of contrasting emotions and sound worlds through his mastery of harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration.
The same can be said for the Concertante for Clarinet and Orchestra of Iannaccone. Anthony Iannaccone was born in 1943. He is the only composer on this offering previously known to me. He studied with Vittorio Giannini, Aaron Copland, and David Diamond, and those influences can be found in his piece. It is the most complex and beautifully finished work on this release. Iannaccone is a consummate master of harmony and counterpoint. His Concertante moves on multiple levels, employing the most deft exploitation of counterpoint. At no time is the casual listener aware that he or she is listening to manipulations of the same thematic kernel. Like Brahms, Iannaccone can be totally intellectual — a purveyor of mind games, yet mind games that lead to a very emotionally satisfying listening experience.
The producers of this CD have left the most provocative piece for last. Andrew Stiller (b. 1946 in Washington, DC) is currently working in Philadelphia. He was a student of Lejaren Hiller and Morton Feldman. For a while, he wanted to be a paleontologist. He studied clarinet, bassoon, and recorder in his youth and, ultimately, music won out. His Procrustean Concerto of 1995 is in two movements. The first is titled “Interview with the Dissidents: Sestina,” and it proffers a dialogue between the clarinet and orchestra. It begins with a quotation from the opening of Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, which will recur at key moments in the movement, along with snippets of tunes from Bach and Stravinsky. These allusions embody the voice of a questionable “reason” as opposed to the feisty clarinet lines that seem to challenge it at every turn. The harmonic complexities of the piece, with their instant swerving to diatonic harmonies as realized in almost Brucknarian orchestration, recall the work of the late Alfred Schnittke, a fact not noted in the liner notes. Oh well, as Stravinsky stated, all composers are thieves — the best of them get away with it. In this case, Stiller indeed gets away with it by dint of his sheer inventiveness. Stravinsky would have smiled. The concerto’s second movement, “Hockets from the Andes,” is eminently unproblematical. It is a set of variations based on an Andean folk tune divided in the orchestra in such a way as to make it a bona fide hocket. The pulse is steady and the metrical parameters of the tune are never violated. The variations come from manipulations of the orchestration. In the final analysis, it works.
The performances of all this stuff are beyond reproach. The sound of the recording is fine. As you must have gathered by now, this disc is recommended.
FANFARE: William Zagorski