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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Waiting for Benny

Naxos 8.573032



1. Francis Poulenc: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, FP 184: I. Allegro tristamente: Allegretto - Très calme - Tempo allegretto

2. II. Romanza: Très calme

3. III. Allegro con fuoco: Très animé

4. Leonard Bernstein: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano: I. Grazioso

5. II. Andantino - Vivace e leggiero

6. George Gershwin: Three Preludes (arr. James Cohn for clarinet and piano): No. 1: Allegro ben ritmato e deciso

7. No. 2: Andante con moto e poco rubato

8. No. 3: Allegro ben ritmato e deciso

9. Igor Stravinsky: Three Pieces: No. 1. Sempre piano e molto tranquillo: quarter note = 52

10. No. 2. quarter note = 168

11. No. 3. quarter note = 160

12. Morton Gould: Benny's Gig: I. Slow and nostalgic

13. II. Brisk, with drive

14. III. Very slow and hesitant

15. IV. Brisk

16. V. Slowly

17. VI. Calypso Serenade: Moderately moving

18. VII. Lazily moving

19. VIII. Jaunty

20. Béla Bartók: Contrasts, BB 116: I. Verbunkos (Recruiting Dance): Moderato, ben ritmato

21. II. Piheno (Relaxation): Lento

22. III. Sebes (Fast Dance): Allegro vivace

Julien Hervé - Clarinet

Jean-Hisanori Sugitani - Piano (tracks 1-8, 20-22)

Ying Lai Green - Double bass (tracks 12-19)

Maud Lovett - Violin (tracks 20-22)

This album was sent to me for review, presumably because it is sub-titled "A Tribute to Benny Goodman". But this is the classical side of Goodman, not "The King of Swing". Benny was a virtuoso on the clarinet, not only in jazz but also in classical music. In his youth he had received two years' training from classically-trained clarinettist Franz Schoepp, and much later he studied under the renowned clarinettist Reginald Kell. Benny recorded Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in 1938 and again in 1956, as well as clarinet concertos by Mozart, Weber and Nielsen.

He also commissioned several works from well-known composers, and this album is devoted primarily to some of those works. Knowing Goodman's reputation in the world of jazz, these composers may have deliberately included some elements of jazz in the commissions. But jazz was a significant influence on many composers in the 20th century, including Ravel, Copland and Milhaud. So this album may be of most interest to jazz fans in illustrating the effect that jazz had on "serious" composers, although the amount of jazz in some of these works is small.

Poulenc's Clarinet Sonata was the last piece of music he wrote before his death in 1963. Much of Poulenc's music had the sparkle and rhythmic animation that one finds in some of the best jazz, and this work was premiered by Benny Goodman and Leonard Bernstein at Carnegie Hall in April 1963. It consists of a typically bright first movement which suddenly turns pensive in the middle; a romantic but somewhat melancholy middle movement; and a speedy finale which tests the players' virtuosity. At this point it is worth saying that Julien Hervé is a dextrous clarinettist with a pleasing tone, and his sound is well balanced with that of pianist Jean-Hisanori Sugitani.

Poulenc's clarinet sonata was his last work but Leonard Bernstein's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano was his first published composition. It is a short piece in two movements which show little jazz influence. It had nothing to do with Benny Goodman, although he knew Bernstein - who later dedicated his Prelude, Fugue and Riffs to Benny.

George Gershwin was, of course, the most prominent of all the composers who introduced jazz into the concert hall. He originally wrote his Three Preludes for the piano, and they have been transcribed for clarinet and piano by James Cohn. Again, there is no direct connection with Benny Goodman but the jazz influence is more noticeable in these tracks than elsewhere on the album. The second movement contains one of Gershwin's most haunting melodies.

Igor Stravinsky's Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet were apparently inspired by his hearing one of the first American jazz bands to tour Europe and being very impressed by the clarinettist. The first movement is clearly based on the blues. The two other movements are rapid pieces which make the clarinet sound like an excited bird. This composition has no connection with Benny Goodman, who much later recorded Stravinsky's Ebony Concerto with Igor as the conductor.

The title of Morton Gould's Benny's Gig sounds the most jazz-oriented on this album and it is one of two compositions that Gould dedicated to Benny Goodman. It consists of eight short pieces for the unusual combination of clarinet and double bass. It would have sounded more jazzy if the double bass had been played in the walking bass style familiar in jazz rather than the rather booming ambience here. The bass sounds better played arco in track 15. The eight pieces alternate between slow and fast. Gould had experience of arranging in jazz and popular music, but the slow movements are quite serious. The fast sections are mostly jeux d'esprit, although track 17 (Calypso Serenade) is rhythmically enticing.

Béla Bartók's Contrasts was commissioned by Benny Goodman, who premiered it in 1940. It is a complex work which, according to the sleeve-note, gets its name "from the opposition between the jazz and folk melodies and rhythms". I suspect that "jazz" is used here in the way that some people apply the word to any music which is vigorous, syncopated or even discordant. In fact the folk factor seems to take precedence, with the first movement based on a folk tune, while the last movement seems more like a country hoedown than a jazz number. But there is interesting interplay between the clarinet, violin and piano, and all three players work together splendidly.

"Waiting for Benny" was the title of a track famously improvised by guitarist Charlie Christian and others in 1941 when they were waiting for Benny Goodman to arrive for a recording. This is a pleasing enough CD but the tenuous links between Goodman and some of the pieces mean that we are still waiting for Benny.

Tony Augarde

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