Leave Me Alone – Minimalist Music for Clarinets
Anthony GIRARD (b. 1959)
L’Oiseau blue for 6 clarinets [5:48]
Frédéric LAGNEAU (1967-2010)
Entre quoi et quoi ou l’unisson n’est pas innocent for 8 clarinets [5:06]
Paul RICHARDS (b. 1969)
Stem Cell for 7 clarinets [10:24]
Hughes MARÉCHAL (b. 1963)
Lost in NATO for 8 clarinets and bass drum [2:15]
Michel LYSIGHT (b. 1958)
Hexagramme for 6 clarinets [4:12]
Steve REICH (b. 1936)
New York Counterpoint for 11 clarinets [11:05]
Ripple Marks for 4 clarinet groups and bass drum [3:30]
HyeKyung LEE (b. 1959)
Shadowing for 2 clarinets [8:04]
David ACHENBERG (b. 1966)
Crazy Tango for 6 clarinets [2:41]
Tom JOHNSON (b. 1939)
Les vaches de Narayana for 12 clarinets and narrator [13:02]
László SÁRY (b. 1940)
Canon to the Rising Sun [3:25]
Ronald van Spaendonck (clarinets), François Morl (reciter: Johnson)
rec. Pulsation Studio, 2006-2016

This is an interesting release, with much very attractive music. It is also valuable in that it is good to be reminded that the general heading of “Minimalism” covers a wider range of composers than the usual suspects: Glass, Adams, Nyman, Riley, Reich and company. The term minimalism - coined, I think, by Nyman - is one of those terms which has value, but which can lead us into thinking just of rather repetitious music, with strong rhythms. It is, of course, more subtle than that.

On this release, the piece which perhaps most neatly fits the stereotype is Stem Cell, by Paul Richards, specifically written for Ronald van Spaendonck, the player here. The performer is asked to blend into the ensemble, eschewing personal identity. Critics of minimalism have sometimes pointed to its anonymity, and might cite this work as an example. But that is to overlook something rather classical about minimalism, recapturing the pre-Romantic time when the individual performer was not the focus of the listener’s attention. In this case, it is also to overlook the intrinsic interest and subtle variety in this music. Hughes Maréchal in the brief Lost in NATO produces a strong piece: with its motoric rhythm and abrupt end, it seems characteristically minimalist, yet with a distinct voice of its own.

Each of the works here has its own character. Lysight, a Belgian like Maréchal, is very interesting. Hexagramme develops into a six-part canon in which short cells gradually are supplemented by additional notes before dwindling away again. Ripple Marks reveals similar progressions and interest in mathematical relations.

For repeated listening, Tom Johnson’s Les vaches de Narayana is perhaps most challenging. In the form recorded here, for 12 clarinets and narrator (originally, no particular instrumentation was specified), the verse is spoken with clarity. It has its own repetitions, echoed by the generally slow-moving music. Recordings of works for narrator always bring their own problems. Sometimes narration can seem to obscure the music (not here). More often, though, one simply does not want to hear the spoken phrases too often. Johnson is well-known for working with little material. There are moments of humour and subtlety.

Performances here are very much creations of the studio, with van Spaendonck playing all the parts himself. This raises interesting questions about performances. He is clearly a superb player, with absolute command of his instrument(s), yet one wonders about this multi-tracking technique. For classically austere music, such as these minimalist works, it can, and here it does, work very well. But one cannot imagine that van Spaendonck played six or twelve different clarinets. Each different instrument has a slightly different character from another, and different players, working in harmony, nevertheless have their own characters and pulse. In ensemble playing there is the blending of both character and varied timbre. Are we missing something here?

Overall, then, a most worthwhile collection.

Michael Wilkinson

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