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Paul CHIHARA (b. 1938)
Ain't No Sunshine for piano, violin and cello (2006) [14:43]
Piano Quintet La Foce (2007) [20:56]
Minidoka for clarinet, viola, harp, percussion (1996) [11:23]
An Afternoon on the Perfume River (2002) [12:00]
Yael Weiss (piano); Mark Kaplan (violin); Clancy Newman (cello) (Sunshine); Pascal Rogé (piano); Ysaye String Quartet (Quintet); Alan R Kay (clarinet); Richard O'Nell (viola); Barbara Allen (harp); Daniel Druckman (percussion) (Minidoka); Odense SO/Paul Mann (Afternoon)
rec. Recital Hall, Purchase College, NY, 18-19 May 2007, 21 September 2007, 9 April 2007; Carl Nielsen Hall, Odense Konserthus, Denmark, 20 June 2007. DDD
BRIDGE 9267 [59:26]
Experience Classicsonline

I first heard something by Chihara when I was sent a private tape of his Saxophone Concerto. It was a good experience and led on - sparsely - to other discoveries including the Reference Recordings CD of his full length ballet The Tempest.

Chihara was born in Seattle and holds a doctorate from Cornell having studied there with Robert Palmer. His other teachers have included Boulanger (Paris), Ernst Pepping (Berlin) and Gunther Schuller (Tanglewood).

This selection of three of his chamber works and one orchestral work is the first of his music I have heard in quite some time. I hope to hear more but opportunities are regrettably scarce.

Ain't No Sunshine is the outcome of a commission for a short yet brilliant piece for a Far East tour by Joel Sachs and his Continuum Ensemble - much of whose studio work has been reissued on Naxos. It is based on but never states directly the blues ballad of that name by Bill Withers. Its full title is Ain't No Sunshine when she is gone. The work heard here is an extended three movement version of the original written specially for Mark Kaplan's Trio. Its intensely coloured fantasy is slightly dissonant yet in substance stays in touch with tonality. Its dreaminess reminded me of the desolate witchery of the instrumental part in Warlock's The Curlew. It is not specially bluesy but is more dreamy-yearning-haunting in the manner of say Lambert and Ravel. 

The Piano Quintet La Foce benefited from the advice of Pascal Rogé during the writing stage. It contains the DNA of Fauré's singing lines and Ravel's impressionism alongside the eerieness and fragmentation of more modern styles. The two elements are nicely resolved and rude gear-changes avoided. The central movement is the vehicle for a blast of sanguine writing. The final pages glow with the memory of the composer's idyllic recollected Parisian years.

Minidoka reflects the composer's childhood experience of forced relocation from Seattle to camps (including Minidoka) in the USA where those of Japanese origin were effectively incarcerated in the wake of Pearl Harbour. It is another atmospheric score with many impressionistic touches including something that sounds like a kazoo playing a siren noise and the sound of shinto monks. The second movement includes the singing of fragments of a song remembered from those years Away Beyond the Hills of Idaho. The effect is of a warm collage in which memory focuses and slips into haze and back.

The single orchestral work is An Afternoon on the Perfume River which was premiered at Carnegie Hall, by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on 7 February 2003. As we have come to expect by now the style is impressionistic and bejewelled with notes slewing off-centre. The title is from a poem by Nguyen Khoa Diem who fought for the communist side in the Vietnam war. The Perfume River flows past the country's capital Hanoi.

The recording is uniformly powerful - strikingly so in the chamber works - in fact almost intimidating in the last movement of Ain't No Sunshine.

These are all compactly expressed short pieces which show a creditable intensity of concentration by this composer. Rewarding music and no mistake. Will appeal to those able to accommodate a insurgency of dissonance and modern discontinuity. The pulsing core is melodic, impressionistic, atmospheric - even nostalgic.

Rob Barnett


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