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Vintage Soundscapes and More
Harold SCHIFFMAN (b.1928)
Banjo Concerto (2009) [11:49]
Octet (2011) [9:55]
Elizabeth BELL (1928-2016)
Concertino for chamber orchestra (1975 transcr. Max Lifchitz, 2014) [8:40]
Edward GREEN (b.1951)
Concerto for clarinet and strings (2004) [14:39]
Federico ERMIRIO (b.1950)
Landscapes of a Soul (c.2010) [12:06]
Max LIFCHITZ (b.1948)
Night Voices No.16 (2010) [18:45]
Ken Perlman (banjo): Arthur Campbell (clarinet): Rocco Parisi (bass clarinet)
The North/South Chamber Orchestra/Max Lifchitz
rec. 2011/16, SUNY Purchase Performances Arts Center; Avatar Studios, USA
NORTH/SOUTH NSR1064 [75:59]

Max Lifchitz, composer, conductor, note-writer and enabler, writes that the music in this disc is ‘listener-friendly’ and adds that these are all premiere recordings. Helpfully he also suggests that the disc should be listened at a moderate volume given the intention was to recapture a concert hall resonance allied to the music’s wide dynamic range. Thoughtful advice.

He’s put together an intriguing programme and I was particularly keen to hear what Harold Schiffman’s Banjo Concerto sounded like. I’ve listened to a lot of banjo music but never yet a concerto for the instrument that, close readers of PG Wodehouse will recall, Bertie Wooster played to tuneless effect, once discovering that his instrument had been replaced with a frying pan. No such problems for Ken Perlman, noted here in the booklet biography, somewhat whimsically one feels, as ‘the Heifetz of the Banjo’. In any case the concerto turns out to be good time music – wholesome, fresh air and Appalachian - with delightful wind counterpoint, lightly scored, and with a Baroque element coursing through its veins. In the slow movement I sense deliberate lute evocations, quietly melancholy with a jauntier central section, and a hint of Bluegrass and buck-and-wing in the jolly finale.

The other Schiffman work is his Octet, a clean-cut rather Francophile work with lashings of charm, a nocturnal waltz in its slow movement and in the finale a folk dance garbed in Renaissance finery. Elizabeth Bell’s Concertino was originally composed for her son’s high school orchestra but has since been rescored for winds, strings and piano by Lifchitz. It’s a taut three movement piece, with some rather forlorn-sounding elements in the central movement and crisp, supple sounding ones in the outer ones. It’s cast in a more contemporary idiom than Schiffman’s pieces but is immediately approachable. In the case of Edward Green’s Clarinet Concerto, adroitly played by the excellent Arthur Campbell, we at first enter the world of pastoral lyricism, with the soloist weaving in and out of a somewhat filmic undertow, before a cheeky contrast takes the listener to rustic frolic complete with songful warmth. This is a bipartite charmer.

Campbell is on hand again with bass clarinettist Rocco Parisi for Federico Ermirio’s Landscapes of a Soul, a tribute to Lukas Foss in ten interlinked sections. Predominantly reflective, and even in places melancholy - though with plenty of contrasts - the coiling clarinets provide much sonic foregrounding. Some ‘blue’ notes intensify the score. Campbell also appears in Lifchitz’s Night Voices No.16 where he soliloquizes in restless curlicues in a long solo before, at the work’s mid-point, the ensemble asserts itself. Lifchitz introduces percussive detailing, in passages where there’s a more even distribution of material between ensemble and clarinet. Interestingly, from around 13 minutes in there’s a regal sounding Baroque figure which reprises three minutes later after some terse exchanges between soloist and percussion. Dedicated to the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake one can feel a strong narrative here.

Tracing a course from the light-hearted Banjo Concerto to the darker imperatives of Night Voices No.16 this is a beguilingly played selection of attractive new music.

Jonathan Woolf  

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