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Rick SOWASH (b.1950)
Chamber Music with clarinet

Anecdotes and Reflections for violin, clarinet, cello and piano (1989)
Street Suite for violin and clarinet (1976)
Daweswood; Suite for violin, clarinet, cello and piano (1980)
Mirecourt Trio (Kenneth Goldsmith, violin; Terry King, cello; John Jensen, piano)
Craig Olzenak (clarinet)
Recorded (? 1991)
GASPARO GSCD 285 [66.52]

Rick Sowash, composer, one time administrator (he claims to be "the only American composer of concert music ever elected to public office"), broadcaster, theatre manager, innkeeper (they still have them in Ohio apparently; where I am the King’s Arms has turned into the Dog and Firkin, has a juke box and sells wine) and is also a professional speaker and humorist. I’ve reviewed music by him before and was keen to renew acquaintance.

Anecdotes and Reflections for violin, clarinet, cello and piano was written to celebrate the life of a founding member of Chamber Music in Yellow Springs, Inc – it’s a memorial piece or better and more accurately, a commemorative piece and the way in which Sowash describes Louise Betcher might equally apply to him – "a lively sense of humor and a broad range of interests." It’s a Concertino in six movements, variously fast and slow, lasting some forty minutes. What does one hear? Klezmer mixed with a 1960s pop song on the clarinet, delightful interplay between violin and cello, a snatch of Loch Lomond in Klezmer style and chordal swing – all in the first movement. There’s mildly bluesy vamping in the second, suffused with Gershwinesque melody, the violin growing increasing blue as the movement develops and in the fast third movement there’s plenty of syncopation and mercurial drive, studded with delightful little moments of lyricism, pockets of refraction. The Larghetto is sweet but not sentimental – reflective but certainly not sombre. The Lento is a sort of Pavane (he has shown his affinities with older forms elsewhere in his compositions). For a moment it opens out into a fluorescent pop tune, enjoys the fun, and withdraws once again. And then there’s the mocking March – sort of Walton meets Weill or Johann Strauss meets a mellow Sousa.

Street Suite (not a title to be abjured by a wordsmith humorist like Sowash) celebrates ten streets in the town where he grew up. Short and pithy these are urban character studies from the bustle of Park Avenue West to the Haydnesque delicacy and rococo charm of Davis Road to the Renaissance sonorities of West Second Street. Finally there is Daweswood where Sowash was once artist-in-residence. Here, unfettered, he gives rein to his lyrical gift (the second movement The Blossom is a particularly fine example). He also explores the warm spring of The Bud and the sparky tang of The Berry in the third and final movement with its hymnal quality preserved.

Splendid performances from the Mirecourt Trio and Craig Olzenak cap another delightful example of Sowash’s art. He has a happy knack of bringing energy and life to his music-making, of infusing it with delight and seemingly bringing to it his own enthusiasms and generosity. As if this wasn’t enough he seems to have passed on his humorous genes to his daughter, Shenandoah, aged nine, whose delicious drawing you can see on the cover.

Jonathan Woolf



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