Peter SCHICKELE (b. 1953)
A Year in the Catskills (2009) [21:33]
Gardens (1968) [6:21]
What Did You Do Today at Jeffrey’s House? (1988) [5:17]
Dream Dances (1988) [12:14]
Diversions (1963) [6:38]
Blair Woodwind Quintet (Jane Kirchner (flute); Jared Hauser (oboe); Cassandra Lee (clarinet); Cynthia Estill (bassoon); Leslie Norton (horn)); Felix Wang (cello); Melissa Rose (piano)
rec. Ingram Hall, Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, 9-10 May, 2009; 20 November 2009 and 24 November 2009.
NAXOS 8.559687 [52:03]

It is a good and joyful thing to see a nice collection of Peter Schickele’s concert music. Not that he is unduly famous for his P.D.Q. Bach character, but as a composer of serious music he shines as one of the most original voices of his generation. Schickele has not invented a new wheel, rather he has managed to take traditional musical gestures and season them with his own invention with the skill of a master chef. This collection of chamber music, deftly rendered by members of the faculty of Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, is a showcase of the composer’s unique wit and creativity.

Commissioned by the Blair Quintet, A Year in the Catskills was brand new at the time of this recording. It is a picturesque work; full of the kind of interesting twists of melody that make Schickele’s music so fascinating. He is prone to shifting one or two notes in a tune by a semitone here or a semitone there to make what could sound quite ordinary into something that is unique and quirky.

The brief triptych Gardens, for oboe and piano is a study in colors. One of Schickele’s outstanding features is his ability to say so much in a very short time. I wouldn’t call him a miniaturist, but he can get his point across with little fuss. Such are these elegant little pieces that depict a garden at the three parts of the day. Jared Hauser plays with a sweet unforced tone, and is sensitively accompanied by pianist Melissa Rose.

What Did You Do Today at Jeffrey’s House? is a bit of nostalgia based on memories of the composer’s playtime with a childhood friend. These are whimsical pieces, pulling from a number of styles including a rollicking boogie-woogie ending. Scored for horn and piano, Leslie Norton and Melissa Rose find all the charm of these brief episodes. I can’t say that I was completely in love with the pieces themselves, as they came across to these ears as a bit contrived.

The outstanding work in this recital is the lovely set of Dream Dances. Scored for flute, oboe and cello, Schickele combines the old and the new by creating a suite that is reminiscent of a Baroque partita, but just for fun he throws in the semi-modern by replacing the Courrant with a Jitterbug and the Allemande with a Waltz. It is pretty much genius really, and Jane Kirschner, Jared Hauser and Felix Wang deliver an elegant performance full of wit.

Diversions, scored for oboe, clarinet and bassoon are again whimsical, and depict three specific scenes, a hot bath, a billiard game, and a New York bar. Although I felt that the composer captured his scenes well, I can’t say that I was particularly moved by these little snapshots, in spite of their being very well played.

Peter Schickele is reported to be one of the most performed composers in America, and it is easy to see why. The term accessible gets too much airplay, but his music is almost always captivating, mainly due to his double ability to color within the lines while choosing shades that don’t come from just any box of crayons. A good listen.

Colorful, original, whimsical, and adventuresome, this collection of musical short stories from one of America’s most diverse composers has something to please every ear.

Kevin Sutton

Colorful, original, whimsical, and adventuresome, this collection of musical short stories from one of America’s most diverse composers has something to please every ear.