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Jag & Jersey
Libby LARSEN (b.1950)
1. Yellow Jersey (2004) [8:09]
Max REGER (1873 - 1916)
2. Romanze in G (1902) [1:33]
James M. DAVID (b.1978)
3. E-TYPE Jag (1998) [6:15]
Norbert BURGMÜLLER (1810 - 1836)
4. Duo Op.15 (c.1834) [11:22]
Libby LARSEN
5. Corker (1977) [6:58]
Thomas Martin WUBBENHORST (b.1952)
6. Even Song (2001) [3:49]
Charles Harford LLOYD (1849 - 1919)
7. “Bon Voyage” - Impromptu (1887) [2:42]
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912 - 1997)
8. Tema con Variazioni (1974) [8:40]
Scott McALLISTER (b.1969)
9. Black Dog (2001) [11:38]
Linda Cionitti (clarinet: all)
Alan Woy (clarinet: 1); Natalia da Roza (piano: 2,4,7 & 8); Maila Gutierrez Springfield (piano: 3); Mathew D. Falin (percussion: 5); Steven Branyon, Sarah Eliasoph, Dianne Fennell, Rebecca Flaherty, Timothy Hall, Brian Taylor, Mark Williams, Tina Zenker Williams (Vocal Octet: 6); Georgia Southern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble/Robert Dunham (9)
rec. First Presbyterian Church, Savannah, Georgia, USA, 24-26 November 2008 and Georgia Southern University Performing Arts Centre Statesboro, Georgia, USA (9), 13 December 2008
MSR CLASSICS MS1329 [61:03]

Experience Classicsonline

This is the most extraordinarily eclectic album of music I have heard in a long time. You might well expect a contemporary piece for clarinet and percussion to jar when it follows - literally - an extended Schumannesque lyrical duo from 1834. But there is in fact a common factor that makes this an absolutely fascinating and delightful recital disc. It is the uniformly high quality of the music which in turn is much aided by the superb playing of principal protagonist clarinettist Linda Cionitti.

The more I listened to this disc the more I liked the deliberate quirkiness of the programming. I do not pretend for a second to be at all expert or knowledgeable about the highways and byways of clarinet repertoire. Listening to this disc is like being taken in hand by a hugely expert enthusiast and shown real musical treasures. I also like the fact that this has been compiled using a wide range of instrumental combinations and performers yet they were all brought together (with the exception of the piece involving the Wind Ensemble) over three days of intense music-making and recording. So this is clearly not some arbitrary assemblage of disparate recordings but a carefully considered and structured programme. Perhaps a culinary analogy would be a good one - this is like a banquet of the finest foods where each individual course, complete in itself, helps to prepare the palate for the one to follow. Hence, not every item is intended to be of equal stature or musical significance. Take for example the exquisite Romanze in G by Reger that forms track 2. A miniature jewel - perfect in its minute and a half and breathtakingly beautifully played here.

In my banquet of the senses analogy a sorbet to cleanse the palate after the hor d'oeuvre of Libby Larsen’s Yellow Jersey that opens the programme. Larsen is a composer I know (and I cannot say that about more than half of them on this disc!) although I had not heard either of her contributions to this concert. This is a duet for two clarinets that takes the rather neat and fun conceit of representing a stage in a bicycle race. The inspiration for this comes from the exploits of Lance Armstrong in winning a record-breaking sequence of the Tour de France. Improbable as this might sound as a musical programme it works really well - the witty interplay between Cionitti and her colleague Alan Woy sets the tone for the whole programme - although this constitutes Woy’s only contribution. I recently reviewed a disc which included several works for clarinet duet and found myself musing over the essential “sameness” of two identical instruments and the resulting aural fatigue. Cionitti and Woy dismiss any such reservations, their playing colourful, apt, superbly assured and above all supremely musical.

In a diverse programme such as this it is normal to find that one prefers certain elements to others. In all truth I cannot make such divisions here. Every piece is a gem. I would challenge any listener not to put this disc on random play and be charmed by what they heard. I cannot praise the playing of Linda Cionitti too highly. This is extraordinarily fine clarinet playing. Technically beyond reproach what I particularly admire is the way she varies her tone, vibrato (so very subtly applied), attack and whole musical personality to suit the period and style of each piece. So the Françaix Tema con Variazioni is all French perkiness, in magnificent contrast to the meltingly beautiful song-like tone of the Burgmüller Duo Op.15. This latter piece is the most instantly accessible ‘discovery’ here - particularly if 20th century music weaves no magic for you. About Burgmüller I know nothing at all except that which is written in the liner-notes. He died at the age of 26. His works were published posthumously. In melodic and harmonic terms they belong to that early romantic age which is the precursor of Schumann and Brahms. One of the longest pieces on this disc, it is an extended song without words. Cionitti finds a meltingly chaste tone creating extended musical phrases that are quite superb.

Compare that to the edgy unmistakably American sound of Black Dog - inspired apparently by Led Zepplin’s song of the same name. Starting with a clarinet cadenza-like passage which sounds as though a rather disturbed Gershwin is under some sinuously eastern influences; this is a compelling work. If you expect the use of a wind band to result in a piece of mellifluous Graingerisms you’ll be sadly mistaken. This is very skilfully scored by composer Scott McAllister who uses the resources of the full Symphonic Wind Ensemble very sparingly but to great effect. Just in case you were ever in any doubt, the full range of Cionitti’s technical address is on display here. What a pleasure not to be given a programme including yet another version of the Copland Clarinet Concerto … but on the other hand I bet it would be a rather special performance!

I should make special mention of two of the other world premiere recordings here. James M David’s E-type Jag is - literally - a musical evocation of the famous car of the same name. Very much in the style of post-modern American composers it is not the most distinctive work on offer here but is energetic and exuberant, sharing a similar spirit (if not musical characteristics) to brilliant toccata-like display works by the Michaels: Daugherty and Torke. The other premiere recording is Thomas Martin Wubbenhorst’s Even Song. Here a group of eight singers imitate a didgeridoo by humming softly in the background over which the clarinet gently muses. It is hauntingly effective and magnificently simple giving Cionitti another opportunity to amaze us with the even purity of her playing. Again the placing of this piece in the programme is quite brilliant.

A warm round of applause at this point for Cionitti’s collaborators - ‘accompanists’ does them too little justice. Pianist Natalia da Roza has the perfect limpid tone for the Reger and Burgmüller, and when her place is taken at the keyboard by Maila Gutierrez Springfield for E-type Jag (she and Cionitti gave the world premiere performance in 2000) the latter is equally superb in the taxing piano part with its striding bass lines and disjointed rhythms. Likewise percussionist Mathew D Falin in the second Larsen piece Corker is an alert and impressive performer. The recording uses the generous church acoustic to very good effect and the balance between all of the instruments is beautifully realised. Finished off with extensive and informative notes, a fun cover picture and a teasing album title this is a CD that reflects great credit on all involved. As mentioned above in passing and alluded to in my banquet analogy, I have enormous respect for those who planned not just the contents but also the sequence of this programme. Prior to listening to this disc Ms Cionitti’s name was unknown to me; from now on I will make a point of seeking out her playing whenever I can. For fans of clarinet music an absolute must and for those who are of a curious nature a veritable box of unexpected delights - a disc I urge you to hear.

Nick Barnard

 


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