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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat (1918) [15:36]
Ken BENSHOOF (b.1933)
A Whimsical Solution (1996) [14:38]
Craig COREY (b.1948)
Sanctuary (2000) [14:31]
Bela BARTŇK (1881-1945)
Contrasts (1938) [17:47]
Alaska Pro Musica (Mark Wolbers (clarinet) Walter Olivares (violin); Timothy Smith (piano))
rec. University of Alaska, Anchorage, Fine Arts Building Recital Hall, 2007 (exact dates not given)
MSR CLASSICS MS1230 [62:33]
Experience Classicsonline


The first thing which impresses about the opening moments of CD is the immediacy and brilliance of the recording. Stravinsky’s Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat, one of the composer’s money-making spin-offs from a piece which proved to have surprising difficulty in making headway in its early years. Removing the music from the text was one of the moves which caused rifts between Stravinsky and his collaborator C.F. Ramuz, but it was the libretto of the piece which had caused the strongest criticism, so the composer’s desire to give the music a life beyond the theatre was understandable. Alaska Pro Musica give the five movements plenty of gusty grit and rhythmic drive. Walter Olivares’ violin is the star, and it provides the necessary quasi-vocal effects which bring much of the music to life, muttering and singing often almost to itself as the other instruments accompany and commentate.
 
A Whimsical Solution by Ken Benshoof was commissioned by this trio, and as you might expect receives a sensitive performance. There are four fairly short movements, each with a ‘whimsical’ title: Simple, which has lyrical charm as well as atmosphere and some drama; Snappy, which has some Messiaen-like octaves within a swinging rhythmic idiom, followed up by walking bass lines in the piano and improvisatory melodies in the other soloists. Quirky is more sparing in its distribution of notes, creating a bleaker landscape, but still one with a certain amount of emotional warmth and approachability. This moves straight on into another jazzy number called Ramblin’, full of little Charleston ostinati, and finishing this attractive work on a positive up-beat into which elements of the other movements are worked.
 
Craig Coray’s Sanctuary was also premiered by Alaska Pro Musica. The title interweaves ‘a musical homage to wild places’ with the concept of sanctuary as a place of refuge, and in the family unit in a similar sense – the personalities of the composer’s wife and two daughters playing their part in the character of the music. This is more introspective in nature to Benshoof’s work, and even the more animated sections have that sense of enclosed space appropriate to the title and themes. The music can be lyrical, having a strong harmonic sense, but despite the ostinato rhythms the second movement, Flowing, is pretty static. The last movement, Still, also does pretty much what it says on the tin. This is nicely atmospheric music, but ultimately lacking a little too much in content and true substance to be genuinely memorable.
 
Béla Bartók’s Contrasts was written in 1938 for clarinettist Benny Goodman and violinist Joseph Szigeti. They performed the work with Bartók at the piano, and their 1940 mono recording has to be one of the all-time treasures of recorded music. Alaska Pro Musica makes a fairly good job of recreating some of the Hungarian character in the music, although the rhythmic emphases and inbuilt freedoms are somewhat sketchily portrayed or as good as lost here and there. This is a tricky piece to bring off effectively, and I admire this trio for programming it on this disc. The second movement, Relaxation has a good atmospheric feel to it, and the drive in the final Fast Dance is well done, with clarinettist Mark Wolbers sounding close to Mr. Goodman on occasion. If you hear this recording and like the music I would however gently steer you in the direction of Sony’s ‘Bartók plays Bartók’ CD; if you can find it: my copy is on a 1986 CBS LP ‘Benny Goodman Collector’s Edition.’
 
Comparing the Stravinsky to the rest of the works on this disc would seem to indicate different recording sessions – certainly the piano sounds rather more spongy in the latter, which is a shame, but not disastrously noticeable. The stereo imaging in the Bartók also seems a little narrower than with the other pieces for some reason, with the clarinet more recessed in the balance. Never mind, this is an interesting programme, and certainly worth investigating. The Stravinsky performance and recording is a real gem, the two newcomers are worthy additions, if somewhat dwarfed by the bookends of two giants of the 20th century.
 
Dominy Clements
 



 


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