Century Music - by Mark Alburger
Just how many pieces
are there for clarinet and contrabass? Certainly a few, if we
can judge from the recent Capstone release, Cassandra,
with clarinetist Roger Heaton and contrabassist Corrado Canonici
It starts energetically
with Chianan Yen's Clone, with a nice vibrant sound coming
from both players. The content has something to do with the
Fibonacci series and music-as-DNA-codes, the latter recently
discussed in the New York Times. But the music doesn't sound
scientific; it sounds ecstatic.
Youngmi Ha, on the
other hand, has a stiller, neoclassic take By the Blue Shore,
where slow and fast passages vary like the weather on an Eastern
afternoon. Ji Young Jung strips these notions down to basics
in a solo clarinet Garak, that shares, with Blue Shore,
a heightened interest in ornamentation.
and Diversions, John Gilbert intends the players to "more
or less satirize their own virtuosity." A refreshing notion.
The beginning has a bit of ridiculous call-and-response à
la one of Crumb's Madrigals. The Stravinsky jokiness
of "big and little voices" (the clarinet is big in
sound, the bass less so) works. There's a Crumbian bravura (ha!
hee! huh!) as well to Ronald Mazurek's Maiastra (Magic Bird),
but this time in the Davidovsky Synchronisms tradition
of an inventive work for bass and electronic tape. Lots of downward
glissandi and vibrato. This is followed by the brief, intriguing Anagrams and Aphorisms of William Toutant, where delicate
sounds meet in stimulating interplay.
himself in the same league as Bertram Turetzky in Riccardo Santoboni's
virtuoso, tutta forze Kaddil. This is followed by the
wonderfully weird Night Scenes of Carlos Delgado for clarinets,
contrabass, and electronics. Seagulls and sustains, anyone?
The signature piece
comes last, Dino Ghezzo's Eyes of Cassandra for clarinets,
contrabass, synthesizer, and tape. Ghezzo pulls out all the
stops with funny and threatening sounds galore. The cover shot
is of the Greek messenger of doom in full scream, and that's
it. Whee! Whew!
From this series
of confident performances we turn to the very confident composer
Andrea Cavallari and his Self-Portrait, also on Capstone.
The American-born Cavallari has lived mostly in Europe, and
he manifests a European-oriented modernism that apologies for
nothing. The performances from his San Felice Contempoensemble
are all magnificent (flutist Michele Marasco, pianists Ju-Ping
Song and Michele Innocenti, violinist Adelino Hasani, bassist
Canonici, sopranos Gerlinde Samann and Charlotte Zeiher, alto
Caterina Calvi). We can tick off the influences of Crumb and
Varèse (Fantasia per Flauto), Stockhausen (the
solo-piano Selfportrait), and Berio (a Magnificat for two sopranos and altos), but it all comes out rather fresh.
Canonici sounds as good here in Achrome as he did on
the preceding album a committed performance of a demanding
Ritratti is a virtuosic, energetic scuttering and bubbling for flute
and piano; Passages thrashes and emotes out for solo
violin. Red utilizes Schoenberg's notion of non-repeating
orchestrations in each of its eight brief movements Pierrot
ensemble (augmented by percussion, with viola exclusively) to
boot. "Red is... Red, Red, Red" has a good beat and
you can dance to it (well, not really, but it is strikingly
rhythmic). "Anguish" is a perpetual motion overlain
with sustains the title is perfect. "Red is a Song"
is a gorgeous vocalise that recalls the vocal/flute duet in
Pierre Boulez's Le Marteau sans Maitre.
A third Capstone
album, pianist Richard Crosby's American Portrait is
virtuosity in a more traditional vein. His Americans are traditional
ones, mostly from a broad mid 20th century (teens to the 80's),
beginning with the Roman Sketches (1917) of Charles Tomlinson
Griffes. These impressionist-romantic pieces ("The White
Peacock," "Nightfall," "The Fountain of
the Acquo Paola," and "Clouds") are certainly
more Debussyan than Respighian, but the arpeggios and arching
phrases work in any language.
A scherzo is the
order of the day, beginning Three Pieces (1932) by Amy
Beach (a.k.a. Mrs. H.H.A....), and that scherzo is "A Peterborough
Chipmunk" which scampers altogether programatically. The
following "Young Birches" tremolo in the breeze, with
the help of a lovely melody. And "The Hummingbird"?
Yes, it buzzes around....
In these contexts,
the Lee Hoiby Narrative (1983) by far the latest
work on the album, by a space of more than 40 years is
not a stand out, but a blend in, fitting nicely with the overall
mood of the album in its tranquility and turbulence.
William Grant Still,
always the surprising master, turns in Seven Traceries (1940). Among the standouts are "Muted Laughter,"
a polytonal chuckling that relates to Heitor Villa-Lobos, and
the solemn intonings that seem to anticipate Messiaen "Out
of the Silence." "Wailing Dawn" contains tragic
wiffs of birdsong. "A Bit of Wit" seriously brightens
You can't keep a
good melody down, and David Guion does his bit to keep the folk
tune "The Arkansas Traveler" moving. Unlike Percy
Grainger, who used to program Guion's version regularly, I've
hung around with too many children over the years not to hear
this as "I'm Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee." Memorable,
with a sting.
Louis Moreau Gotschalk's
appealingly rhythmic Banjo (ca. 1855, but not sounding
out of place in this 20th-century collection) and the wonderful Prelude No. 1 by George Gershwin round out the festivities.