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Raimi plays Raimi, Schoenfield and Kuss

Eyn Mol; theme with nine variations

Ten American Folksongs
Paul SCHOENFIELD (b.1947)

Six British Folk Songs (1985)
Fred Raimi (cello)
Jane Hawkins (piano) except Mark Kuss (piano) in the Ten American Folksongs
Recorded Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University, January 2003
GASPARO GSCD 359 [56.07]


Max Raimi is a member of the viola section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, having studied with Lilian Fuchs, and he’s also a composer of standing. If anyone is going to interpret Eyn Mol, a klezmer melody on which he has based a series of variations, it will be his cellist brother Fred and so it proves. Max Raimi states that it’s the "earthiness" of the ritual celebrated in the song that he wants to catch, as opposed to any spiritual side and to this end his Theme and nine variations, with a coda, mine moments of elliptical reflection and abrasive chordal outbursts. It’s certainly not quite as generously riotous as he seems to suggest in his notes – though far be it from me to contradict him – because he succeeds in exploiting registral leaps (deep bass notes on the piano, high lying cello writing) and a deal of oppositional writing, some of it quite abrasive. When we reach Variation VIII one meets the sheer sense of elation he can build in his writing, the melody stated first by the piano and then taken up by the cello – a process reversed in the coda.

Mark Kruss’s American Folksongs are actually advertising jingles – for Pentium or Old Spice and so on. He’s taken some well known and some lesser-known ones and crafted a twenty-one minute series of them. He generally states the theme on the solo cello and then develops them accordingly. I daresay that State Farm Insurance (motto; Like A Good Neighbor) never quite envisaged the expressive contours Kruss would grant its humble commercial product, though that may well be part of his point. Similarly Bumble Bee Tuna (not something I find on my breakfast table, alas) opens with a sliver of a Bach solo Cello Suite haunting it before taking off into the pop songbook. There’s something vaguely chorale like about Old Spice, the shaving lotion (I seem to remember sun kissed surfers and a lot of Carl Orff in the British version) and true to form Kuss varies the stylistic means by ending with Delta Airlines in a bout of unstoppable minimalism – intriguing and amusing, though not folksongs. Or folk songs.

Finally we have Schoenfield’s British Folk Songs (real ones this time) that were composed as a tribute to Jacqueline du Pré. They alternate between fast and slow and owe something to Britten, though the piano parts are not so tart. They veer between warmly romantic and bustlingly effective (The Gypsy Laddie is perhaps better known as The Wraggle Taggle Gipsies). The high point is reached at the end with A Dream of Napoleon where, somewhat like Britten’s Lachrymae, the theme emerges unsullied and cleansed towards the end – only the piano’s wandering unease sounding a cautionary note.

Fine performances all round enhance this collection of unusual pieces. Most are slight but they are certainly not whimsical or lacking in incidental depth.

Jonathan Woolf


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