RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Dances to a Black Pipe
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Clarinet Concerto [16:18]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Hungarian Dances Nos. 12, 13, 1 and 21 (arr. Göran Fröst) [8:41]
Göran FRÖST (1974-)
Klezmer Dances [4:05]
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
Dance Preludes [9:21]
Ástor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Anders HILLBORG (1954-)
Peacock Tales [19:17]
Fredrik HÖGBERG (1971-)
Dancing with Silent Purpose [11:07]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Clarinet Concerto, transition and second movement with original coda [8:19]
Martin Fröst (clarinet)
Australian Chamber Orchestra/Richard Tognetti
rec. May-June 2011, Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Centre, Sydney, Australia
BIS SACD 1863 [81:31]
Part of Martin Fröst’s extraordinary artistry is his talent for creating eclectic, fascinating programs for performance and compact disc. He’s at it again here, with a truly fantastic title, Dances to a Black Pipe, which heralds the twin currents of dance and darkness. We have sprightly arrangements of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances for clarinet and chamber orchestra, dispatched with élan and Fröst’s customary virtuosity, a marvelous klezmer trifle by the clarinetist’s brother, and Piazzolla’s muted Oblivion, all set alongside a dance cycle by Lutoslawski and two brand-new works composed for the performer, by Anders Hillborg and Fredrik Högberg. Bookending this feast are rival accounts of Aaron Copland’s clarinet concerto: the standard version and the original, more virtuosic finale.
Just the thought of Martin Fröst in this music was enough to get me thinking ‘recording of the month,’ and just the thought should be enough to have you clicking ‘buy.’ If you need further encouragement: here he is in a performance of the Copland concerto which romanticizes the piece just a little bit, taking some of the tang off, especially in a lush (slower than usual) opening nocturne. Fröst’s tone is as smooth and full-bodied as good dark chocolate; he can’t put a foot wrong. The Brahms dances are very smartly arranged by his brother Göran Fröst, and the sensitivity of the writing is both a relief (if you’ve heard them a million times) and a joy (if you’re keen to hear them anew), Fröst’s clarinet dancing in zigzags through a vibrant thicket of strings. Göran’s klezmer miniature, Klezmer Dances, is just as appealing and has a rare authenticity in its voice. (Goodness, all the players sound like they’re having a lot of fun, even Fröst in the fiendish cadenza at the finish line.)
The second half of the program is taken up with Lutoslawski’s Dance Preludes and Fredrik Högberg’s Dancing with Silent Purpose, each about ten minutes long, and Anders Hillborg’s Peacock Tales, the biggest thing on the CD in one nineteen-minute movement. The Hillborg doesn’t translate all that well to CD, since an essential element of the work is the fact that Fröst (who commissioned it) dresses up in an outlandish costume and dances about the stage during the performance. Indeed, the piece was designed with help from two choreographers. There is an amusing photo of this provided, but the booklet itself recommends watching the piece on YouTube. I have to say that, purely musically, Hillborg’s rather digressive and emotionally bland piece did not appeal to me on first listen; repeated hearings leave me most engaged by the final five minutes. The first four minutes are an extremely slow clarinet solo. Subsequent episodes involve harsh string sonorities, odd chirping noises, pulsating quasi-minimalist lines which evolve as they go along, and some admittedly fetching klezmer-like clarinet runs.
Högberg’s work, though, is a treat. Dancing with Silent Purpose is based on video games, of all things, with considerable electronic effects. A computerized voice instructs Fröst to begin and then, to an electronic background of rhythmic sound and atmospheric effects, Fröst and the strings play a series of late-romantic dances - think of Copland or maybe Arnold. The background beat creates a union between classical dance and a classy but very catchy rave; it is to techno what Gershwin was to jazz. Upon completing the piece, the computerized voice returns: “Well done, my friend. Please disassemble your instrument.” And we hear a few dutiful disassembly clicks.
Lutoslawski was not a party animal, but his Dance Preludes are in his earlier, more instantly likeable style, and they channel the sounds of Polish folk music with brio - listen for the bounding double bass in the third prelude. There are two slow movements, with the feel of laments, which come closer to the composer’s later emotional bent.
For an encore, we get a very rare look at the original ending of Copland’s clarinet concerto, which was a little too gnarly and difficult for Benny Goodman to pull off but which poses Fröst no trouble. This, plus a tender four-minute Piazzolla transcription involving conductor Richard Tognetti’s solo violin - I love how Piazzolla pops up on everyone’s recitals these days! - adds up to over 81 minutes of music. Fröst’s notes are fantastic … and very personal, with improbable stories about his family’s own dancing traditions. The engineering is as fine as you’d expect, with the players and electronic playback in the Högberg balanced perfectly against each other. This is a real treat.
This is a real treat: the incomparable Martin Fröst does jazz, klezmer, tango, and techno.