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Dan WELCHER (b.1948)
Haleakala - How Maui Snared the Sun (Tone Poem) (1991) [22.32]
Prairie Light; Three Texas Watercolours of Georgia O’Keefe (1985) [14.20]
Concerto for clarinet and orchestra (1989)
Bill Jackson (clarinet)
Richard Chamberlain (narrator)
Honolulu Symphony Orchestra/Donald Johanos
rec. Blaisdell Concert Hall, Honolulu, January 1992
NAXOS 8.559287 [57.06]
Welcher has written a very engaging Clarinet Concerto. It’s in two movements, with the second a Blues and Toccata (on the name “Benny Goodman”), completed in 1989. There are hints of Bernstein and big band off-beats in the first movement, as well as a strong sense of the filmic in the orchestration and not least in the clarinet arabesques that are so splendid a feature. Welcher is certainly inside the idiom in a way that, say, Malcolm Arnold, in his own Goodman-inspired Concerto was not – oddly given his professed affiliations with jazz. Welcher has assimilated the idiom much less self-consciously. The opening fanfare appears in a new time signature and there are some fine “string bass” rhythm moments. The second movement is also coloured with jazz devices – hints of brush work from the percussionist, varying kinds of articulation for the soloist, the fine Bill Jackson, which include a few yelps. A muted trumpet and a gradual thinning down of the orchestral to the evocation of the classic Goodman Quartet, with its clarinet, vibes, piano and drums personnel, is faithfully mirrored here. We even end on a deliberate quotation of a favourite Goodman lick. Most diverting all round.
Prairie Light, inspired by three Georgia O’Keefe watercolours is a slightly earlier work. It has distinctive Francophile affiliations and wears its influence without rancour or embarrassment. The influence is Debussy and in its colour and dynamism it evokes the canyon light with great precision and evocative aura. The second of the three cleverly corrals wind instruments to evoke the Crows of O’Keefe’s watercolour whilst the third is airy with marimba-type sonority.
Haleakala - How Maui Snared the Sun is a long tone poem that can be performed without narration. Here we have Richard Chamberlain - rather too quaky in some scenes, where simplicity would have prevailed. This is the weakest piece of the three though not without interest. Once again much of the incident sounds filmic in orientation but there’s a nice use of colour to depict this Hawaiian myth. The sun’s rays are especially powerfully explored as is the battle scene – trumpet and percussion - which shows an imaginative ear at work.
The performances are excellent, the recording extremely good and the notes are the composer’s own. Play this disc in reverse order and you’ll certainly start happy. One final thing – this was previously released on Marco Polo in 1992 so don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a new recording.

Jonathan Woolf


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