Francis E. FAIRMAN III (b.1923)
Clarinet Concerto (1995) [28:39]
The Fox, for orchestra (1996) [5:56]
Diurnal Thoughts, for orchestra (1991) [18:37]
New York Taxi, for orchestra (1991) [4:55]
Richard Stoltzman (clarinet); Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Gil Rose (Concerto); Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor (Fox); Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Vit Micka (Diurnal Thoughts; New York Taxi)
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, August 2000 (Concerto)); MFO Concerto Hall, Olomouc, Czech Republic, 22-24 January 1997 (The Fox); Martinek Studio, Prague, May-July 1998 (Diurnal); Bratislava, May 2005 (Taxi). DDD
NAVONA RECORDS NV 5863 [58:07]
This is one of those CDs that it is disconcertingly easy to overlook. Not only does the composer sound perhaps more like a Texan oil tycoon or golf pro, but the disc also comes in a slimline digipak case with DIY-style artwork and a New Age kind of title (Diurnal Thoughts). Some internet retailers have indeed filed this either under New Age or jazz. Fairman's works are neither, however, and those particular labels are an insult to what is very accessible, attractive music, but far from unsophisticated or 'light'. For those convinced that art music written after the 1930s is a waste of time, this must be a risk-free buy.
Fairman was for decades an amateur composer in a musical family, earning his living as an engineer. In retirement he turned to full-time composing, and this disc brings together some of those fruits in a first commercial recording. The dates indicate that the masters have been lying around a studio somewhere for a considerable time - at his age especially, Fairman himself must have been wondering why these things take so long!
At least it was worth the wait, for these works are all easy on the ear: structured, tuneful and interesting. Some of them are also memorably programmatic, from The Fox - a colourful, yet not at all predictable depiction of a fox hunt, reminiscent of Malcolm Arnold, to the self-explanatory New York Taxi, a Gershwinesque 'American in Manhattan', but with some of the darker tones and wit of Arnold again. In the more substantial Diurnal Thoughts Fairman recalls the heat and exotic scenery of his days stationed in The Philippines in World War II, with sterling attention to orchestration. The music is aptly impressionistic, recalling Debussyian seascapes.
The final work is biggest and best. Fairman's upbeat, lyrical Clarinet Concerto has an urbane Frenchness about its four movements that is winsome and winning. The finale, though perhaps a little over-extended, has a simple but very catchy John Adamsy ostinato that ensures it will replay frequently in the mind. Richard Stoltzman gave the premiere with the Warsaw Philharmonic around the time of this recording. As is often the case, Stoltzman's is the stand-out performance in this programme, but the Warsaw Philharmonic never lets him down, and the Moravian Philharmonic under Navona stalwart Vit Micka also sound - or rather, sounded nearly 15 years ago now - pretty good.
Audio quality is not always convincing in Navona's eastern Europe-based recordings, but these are quite reasonable, the problem being - as always - a slight lack of definition in some ranges. We are talking here of a top mp3 feel rather than entirely lossless. For most ears the issue will be negligible. The producer must take responsibility for the unnecessary killing of reverberation at the end of the Concerto movements.
The CD-ROM section of the disc contains so-called extras - desktop wallpaper and ring tones, and more importantly, readable full scores. The digital booklet is sparse, which defeats the object of having it on cyber-paper. Some may find Fairman's own notes somewhat illiberal in tone. In The Fox, for example, he rather needlessly reports that the prey ends up "taken by the hounds" - ripped to bits, in plain language; and that the journey through life, represented in part in the Clarinet Concerto, is sometimes "beyond our control and in the hands of God, our guiding spirit, who is always with us." Clearly not with the foxes, however.
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Very accessible, attractive music, but far from unsophisticated or 'light'.