April 01, 2021


Music for Clarinet and Strings by Cyril Scott, Nicola LeFanu, Howard Skempton, Tony Coe, Rebecca Clarke, and Sadie Harrison. Ian Mitchell, clarinet and conducting Gemini. Métier. $18.99.

Moto Eterno: Music by Matthew Hetz, Pierre Schroeder, Timothy Kramer, John Hawkes, David T. Bridges, John G. Bilotta, Christian Paterniti, Diane Jones, Katherine Price, and Michael Cohen. Trio Casals (Alexandr Kislitsyn, violin; Ovidiu Marinescu, cello; Anna Kislitsyna, piano). Navona. $14.99.

     Chamber music, the contemporary sort and that of the fairly recent past, often manages to maintain a strong connection with earlier small-ensemble music while exploring some new areas. And many chamber works from the mid-20th-century time period to the present remain little known – giving performers and listeners alike the chance to explore some unfamiliar territory. Both as clarinet soloist and as leader of the Gemini chamber ensemble, Ian Mitchell does a fine job of introducing audiences to seven little-known chamber works, by six composers, on a new Métier CD. The Clarinet Quintet by Cyril Scott (1879-1970) is a single-movement work of considerable intensity and rich post-Romantic sound. The four Songs without Words by Nicola LeFanu (born 1947) take the solo clarinet through a wide range of sounds and emotions, sometimes with accompaniment. There is only a modicum of the songful in these pieces, although there is quiet gloom in the last and longest piece, In Memoriam (Remembrance). Next on the CD is Lullaby by Howard Skempton (born 1947), and it is a warm and gently rocking piece, if not as relaxing as its title implies. Dream Odyssey by Tony Coe (born 1934) consists of three short pieces (each less than two minutes long) that are gently evocative of differing dreamscapes (Marsh Lanterns, The Pathless Wood and Bird of Fortune). In contrast, Prelude, Allegro & Pastorale by Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) is non-programmatic music, although it too produces feelings of disparate moods – first quiet and soulful, then bouncy and dissonant, and finally expansive and warm. Fire in Song by Sadie Harrison (born 1965) returns to the realm of deliberate tone-painting in movements called The World’s Lament, Bandicoot and the Hollow Log, Quail and the Burning Twig, Honey Bees and the Paperbark Swamp, Honey Bees and the Tall Grass, Bäru the Saltwater Crocodile and the Ancient Fire, and Lament for the Whole World. Knowledge of the underlying folk tales would certainly help explain the movements’ meanings and the introduction of percussive sounds into them – but even without such knowledge, it is interesting to hear the ways in which Harrison varies the harmonies and rhythms of the pieces to portray a variety of small but telling scenes, most lasting less than two minutes. The longest, crocodile-and-fire piece includes spoken narrative but is no more illustrative as a result. The disc concludes with another seven-short-movements work, the second offering by Skempton: Gemini Dances. Here most pieces actually are danceable (or marchable in the case of the central Alla marcia), and the overall impression of gentle give-and-take among instruments shows considerable sensitivity to the underlying concept of chamber music. Nothing on the disc stands out as an exceptional discovery or rediscovery, but most of the pieces are pleasurable, and all are very well performed by soloist and ensemble alike.

     The 10 chamber works by 10 contemporary composers on a Navona CD with the title of Moto Eterno have little in common except some scoring elements. John Hawkes’ Bright Hair, Falling, David T. Bridges’ Three Caprices, John G. Bilotta’s Beauty from Forgetfulness, Diane Jones’ Crooked Lake, Katherine Price’s Heliotrope, and Michael Cohen’s Monday Morning are for piano trio. Matthew Hetz’s Sarajevo Cellist, Pierre Schroeder’s Glimmer, and Christian Paterniti’s Notturno are for cello-and-piano duo. And Timothy Kramer’s Vanishing Perspectives is for cello solo. The intent of the works varies, as does their level of interest. For example, the Hetz piece is the first movement of a two-movement sonata based on the true story of a cellist playing for the wounded and dead during the siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to1996 – but without the second, placating movement, it presents terror and fear without balance. Kramer’s work uses an amplified cello. The Hawkes piece features loud, intense note clusters in the piano’s lowest range. The Bridges and Cohen works are on the lighter side, Three Caprices offering very short and somewhat dancelike material while Monday Morning is frenetic and intense except in a calmer central section. As often happens in anthologies, the lack of connection among the pieces means it is unlikely that listeners will find this entire CD palatable, much less strongly attractive; but because the works are so different, anyone interested in contemporary music for piano trio (or portions of a piano trio) will likely enjoy at least  some of the material. Thus, Paterniti’s work is somewhat stronger in intensity than nocturnes usually are, but may appeal to listeners who would find Jones’ slow, gentle and quiet piece a touch too tame. Certainly the disc is another indication, if another one was needed, that today’s composers continue to explore chamber music thoughtfully, and generally with a good deal of skill.

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