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Jonathan Woolf
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International Connections The Making of a Medium - Volume 16
Jennifer HIGDON (b.1962)
Dash (2001) [4:22]
Gernot WOLFGANG (b.1957)
Reflections (1999) [14:28]
Bright SHENG (b.1955)
Tibetan Dance (2000) [9:59]
Stephen CHATMAN (b.1950)
Trio (2001)
Wolfgang RIHM (b.1952)
Gesangstück (2002) [25:30]
Walter Verdehr (violin)
Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr (clarinet)
Silvia Roederer (piano)
rec. First Presbyterian Church of Lansing, Michigan, November 2003 (Wolfgang and Higdon) and in the Witold Lutoslawski Concert Hall, Polish Radio, Warsaw, September 2003 (remainder)

Bartók’s is not the only model for later twentieth century trios for violin, clarinet and piano – though his is the most pervasive and prominent. Nevertheless these five composers, from very different backgrounds and aesthetics, each contributes a work for this trio; works that range from the concise – Jennifer Higdon – to the large-scale Rihm.
Higdon’s 2001 Dash is just that – a sprightly drive animates its four minutes and it functions as a brilliant kind of scherzo. Gernot Wolfgang by immediate contrast operates deeper in Bergian waters. There are perhaps hints too of Contrasts but more so I think of the Berg Violin Concerto. He also covers a wide canvas of effects, from bent, or blue notes for the clarinettist, to the violin’s slapped pizzicati. There are also folkloric moments and from 10:20 some expressive moments when each instrument dons a soloistic mantle. The finale is driving with a strangely ambiguous, held final note.
Tibetan Dance by Bright Sheng was written in 2000 – all the works on this disc are pleasingly up-to-date in fact. The quiet and reflective first two movements – a Prelude and a brief but lovely Song – soon give way to the Dance itself, all the more enjoyable for having been held back. Derived from a melody from a Chinese province near Tibet we find the clarinet often leading and the foot tap quotient suitably high.
The rather bald title of Stephen Chatman’s contribution - Trio - belies the fact that it consists of three very forthcoming and self-explicatory titles; Scales, Blues and Dance. There’s no arguing with a composer who states his case so cogently so let me just add that the scalar demands sound very taxing, and that his Blues is tinted and haunted and fugitively suggestive. Also that the Dance builds up a real groove through ever changing patterns. 
The final work is the longest. Rihm really knows how to handle this ensemble, how to fuse it into a cogent and convincing blend. His highly sophisticated technique is never off putting; on the contrary he pushes the violin in alt and thereby expands the available sonorities through traditional means. He is unafraid to employ pizzicati for the same reason. There’s a real fluidity of feeling in his work and it is a constant pleasure to hear. The time passes quickly. 
Crystal has long ago mastered the art of producing dextrous ensembles. Their stable of wind and brass players is exemplary. The Verdehr Trio has also been on a long and rewarding trek through new music. This is amazingly enough their sixteenth volume for Crystal and they are just as fresh and enthusiastic as ever they were.
Jonathan Woolf

Reviews of other releases in this series
Volume 1   Mozart, Hovhaness, Frescobaldi, Pasatieri, Bartok
Volume 3  Schuller, Averitt, Currier
Volume 6   Sculthorpe, Diamond, Corigliano
Volume 13 Currier, Tower, Brohn, Welcher, Biggs, Hoag
Volume 14 Eröd, von Einem, David


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