Chris BRUBECK (b.1952)
Danza del Soul, for clarinet, violin, cello, bass, piano and percussion [30:09]
Michael GANDOLFI (b.1956)
Line Drawings, for clarinet, violin and piano [22:51]
Lukas FOSS (1922-2009)
Central Park Reel, for violin and piano [10:28]
Concord Chamber Music Society (Wendy Putnam (violin); Vytas Baksys (piano); Thomas Martin (clarinet); Owen Young (cello); Lawrence Wolfe (bass); Daniel Bauch (percussion))
rec. Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, 3-5 September 2010. DDD
REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-122 [63:30]
This latest release by the cannily named American label Reference Recordings features an easy-going trio of chamber works: two longer 21st-century items by living American composers, and one shorter late 20th-century piece by a Berlin-born adoptive American.
Given his own parentage, Chris Brubeck's Danza del Soul is not as out-and-out jazzy as it might be, at least not in the entertaining thirteen-minute first movement, which is strongly reminiscent of Milhaud - mentor to Brubeck's famous father Dave, who is, incidentally, still playing jazz and composing classical music in his 91st year. The ethereal sound of the violin at the beginning is a special effect achieved through having the violinist off-stage (or off-microphone) whilst the clarinettist is 'warming up' mellifluously. In performance the other players are supposed to enter in a similar fashion - piano excepted, presumably. According to the notes, this "staged mischief helps to tickle the classical veneer and allows the musicians to establish a more personal rapport with the audience"; at the premier performance in 2010, apparently, "the crowd was amused and engaged by these proceedings which opened them up to enjoy the music from a fresher perspective."
In fact, after the promise of the jaunty, tuneful first movement, Brubeck's music proves itself artless enough - literally - to satisfy those ingenuous audiences without added theatricality. The second movement is slow and bluesy and rather slushy, leaving the work clinging for dear life to its dignity. But the final 'Celebraçion de Vida', linguistically misbegotten cedilla and all, is yet jazzier, meretriciously so, with the clichés coming thick and fast: not so much a celebration of life as a celebration of superficiality. As with Piazzolla at his crassest though, some people will like it.
Gandolfi's Line Drawings - the title inspired by Picasso's pictures - begins, thankfully, with more pizzazz than jazz. By the second of its five movements it is fully transformed into a delightful, often wistful clarinet trio in the best 20th century tradition. Gandolfi writes: "None of my pieces is tethered to a precise Picasso drawing but they are written in the spirit of the Picasso works: concise, clear, written with a sense of immediacy and sureness of stroke, light and airy." Whether or not that description fits Picasso, it certainly applies to Line Drawings, easily the most musically interesting work on the CD.
Lukas Foss's Central Park Reel is likely to have the widest immediate appeal, however. Commissioned by the somewhat shady-sounding US Information Agency for performance abroad by musical ambassadors, it is a lively, playful reel for violin in Irish-cum-bluegrass style which, after an opening in which the pianist apes the violinist by strumming the piano strings, jigs along blithely to an athletic piano accompaniment until finally turning deliciously dissonant in a noisy, concertinaing Ivesian ending, further spiced up by Foss's "optional electronic addition [...] via a tape delay offset by two beats."
The six soloists from the Concord Chamber Music Society give good solid performances throughout. Though the three works in the recital rarely require performers to scale any heights, honourable mentions for feats of eloquence, legerdemain and sensibility are due for Society founder and Boston Symphony violinist Wendy Putnam, clarinettist Thomas Martin and pianist Vytas Baksys.
Sound and general technical quality is very high, though there is a slight deterioration for Line Drawings, which shows signs of having been part-recorded on two different occasions - though the difference is only really audible through headphones. The booklet is stylish and informative, if hardly objective, with several colour photos, including a full-page one of the opulent interior of the Mechanics Hall in Worcester.
Three-quarters of an hour of pleasing music, one quarter for easy-listeners only, all of it played and recorded very commendably: on balance, certainly worth further investigation by the general listener.
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