April 22, 2021


Music for Trumpet and Piano by Bernstein, Hindemith, Gershwin, Poulenc, Ravel, Bartók, Scott Joplin, and Jean Yves Daniel-Lesur. James Tinsley, trumpet; Louise-Andrée Baril, Miles Graber and Paul Jenkins, piano. MSR Classics. $12.95.

Khachaturian: Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano; Milhaud: Suite for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano; Peter Schickele: Serenade for Three; Roger J. Henry: Trio No. 2 for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano. Ensemble Next Parallel (Yevgeny Dokshansky, clarinet; Enrique Reynosa, violin; Anna Nizhegorodtseva, piano). Heritage Records. $18.25.

Douglas Boyce: Chamber Works—Quintet l’homme armé; Etude No. 1 for Cello and Piano; Piano Quartet No. 2; Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind; The Hunt by Night. counter)induction; Schuyler Slack, cello; Ieva Jokubaviciute, piano; Beth Guterman Chu, viola; Trio Cavatina. New Focus Recordings. $16.99.

Music for Wind Ensemble by Stacy Garrop, David Maslanka, and David Biedenbender. UMass Wind Ensemble conducted by Matthew Westgate. MSR Classics. $12.95.

     In chamber music as well as works for a larger instrumental complement, winds bring a special flavor that has been noticed and polished at least since Mozart and Weber brought the clarinet to heightened prominence – and in some ways long before that, with brass instruments fulfilling specific sacred duties in church music and gradually emerging in their own right in secular works. Just how full of character wind music can be is shown to good effect in a great many recent recordings. James Tinsley, supported by three different pianists, puts his warm, full and elegant trumpet tone at the service of works of several time periods, some of them written for trumpet and piano and others heard in transcription. Leonard Bernstein’s very brief Rondo for Lifey opens the recital in jaunty and slightly acerbic fashion and is followed by Hindemith’s Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, a large-scale and dense three-movement work in whose first movement trumpet and piano constantly vie for centrality – after which there is a brief and altogether gentler second movement, then a funereal finale (actually labeled Trauermusik) that evokes some of the church-music solemnity for which the trumpet was known in the distant past. Gershwin’s Second Prelude is also on the serious side, but its jazz inflections give it a different emotional coloration from that provided by Hindemith’s work. Poulenc’s brief Novelette No. 1 is considerably brighter, songful and upbeat, with prominent piano sections. The same composer’s seven-movement Suite française (d’après Claude Gervaise) sounds a good deal like one of Respighi’s forays into updates of older music: the spirit of the era of Gervaise (1525-1583) comes through clearly. Tinsley does an especially good job of varying the sound of his instrument to accommodate the differing moods of, for example, the Pavane and Petite marche militaire movements. The warmth of the penultimate Sicilienne contrasts especially well with the final Carillon – but all these short movements bring pleasures of their own. Tinsley next plays Ravel’s Habanera, which fits rather oddly here: its tonal world and its treatment of the trumpet are somewhat jarring after the Poulenc suite, although like everything on the disc, it is well-played. The Ravel is followed by the eight Slovak Folk Songs by Bartók, only one of which lasts as long as a minute: these super-miniatures set their moods very quickly and dissipate almost before a listener can absorb them. The “wa-wa” effects in the fourth song, Poco andante, are among the points of interest. Scott Joplin’s Paragon Rag is heard next, and its typical-for-Joplin swinging rhythm comes across well – somewhat more in the piano than the trumpet, however. Tinsley then plays the traditional Londonderry Air with warmth, although perhaps a bit perfunctorily. The CD concludes with Aubade by Jean Yves Daniel-Lesur (1908-2002), this being a tiny (49-second) but rhythmically complex piece that does not quite work as an encore but may whet listeners’ appetite for other music by this composer. The CD will certainly interest Tinsley’s fellow trumpet players – and some of the material, especially the hefty Hindemith sonata and very well-proportioned Poulenc suite, will be attractive to a more-general audience.

     Despite the quality of the performances, not all the works played by Tinsley seem quite to fit together – and the same may be said for the four pieces on a new Heritage Records CD featuring Yevgeny Dokshansky, Enrique Reynosa, and Anna Nizhegorodtseva. Khachaturian’s Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano opens with what is essentially a clarinet-violin duet, with the piano in a distinctly supporting role and the clarinet somewhat imitating the sound of the Central Eurasian zurna – which Dokshansky does quite neatly. The second movement has highly accentuated dance rhythms, while the third features Uzbek folk melodies and is a set of variations that eventually dissolves into a rather inconclusive pianissimo ending. The roots of Khachaturian’s work are clearly in the folk-music world – while those of Milhaud’s Suite for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano are in film. Both pieces are from the 1930s, Khachaturian’s from 1932 and Milhaud’s based on music he wrote for Jean Anouilh’s 1936 Voyageur sans bagages. But the works’ effects are quite different. Even when Khachaturian is upbeat, it is through the lens of folk material and within the Socialist Realism required of Soviet composers at the time. Milhaud’s suite is for the most part far jauntier, with a pervasive sense of irony. Its neo-Stravinskian first movement, gracious and rather surface-level second, and scherzo-like third (pretty much a violin-clarinet duet, in this one way akin to the first movement of the Khachaturian), all added together, are only slightly longer than the finale, which starts with the most-serious material of the whole suite before turning into something of a full-fledged romp with a rather Brazilian contrasting theme thrown in for good measure. Dokshansky, Reynosa, and Nizhegorodtseva play the music in spirited fashion but with a bit less abandon than it can handle: this is really a piece of no great consequence, simply a divertissement (the actual designation of the second movement) that is fun and mostly forgettable – although listeners will likely remember the near-references to the tune of For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow. The Milhaud actually fits comparatively well with the next work offered here, written by Peter Schickele but incorporating material from his nonexistent parody creation, “P.D.Q. Bach.” This is Serenade for Three, with movements called Dances, Songs and Variations, the last of those marked Fast, rowdy and managing to complement both the variation-finale of the Khachaturian and the overall frothiness of the Milhaud – all while being based on a theme from the “P.D.Q. Bach” opera/oratorio Oedipus Tex. The performers, to their credit, take the entire serenade none too seriously, and actually seem to have more fun with it than with the not-all-that-dissimilar Milhaud. And then there is the concluding piece on the disc, one commissioned by Dokshansky: Roger J. Henry’s Trio No. 2 for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano, where the clarinet is once again, as in the Khachaturian, the first-named instrument. And well it might be: this strongly rhythmic work, which contains numerous references to the music of Trinidad and Tobago, is a kind of “clarinet plus others” trio, effectively showcasing the wind instrument while tending to relegate the others to supporting roles (although not always). In its somewhat folkloric orientation, Henry’s trio recalls the intentionality if not the sound world of Khachaturian’s, although Henry’s is a work of greater maturity – perhaps because he wrote it in his 50s, while Khachaturian created his clarinet trio when he was 29. Henry does have a good sense of sound balance and blending among the instruments, and he knows how to keep matters lively on the one hand and somewhat more sober, if not somber, on the other. This trio is, like all else on the disc, pleasant, but everything here comes across as music of no great consequence – this is a chamber recital that is decidedly on the lighter side, and while there are, here and there, elements that the pieces have in common, the CD as a totality is a bit diffuse. Still, each of the individual works offers enjoyment on its own: people who separate the four pieces from each other and listen to them at different times will likely have a more congenial experience than those who simply play the CD straight through from start to finish.

     The clarinet is a partial feature on a New Focus Recordings CD of chamber music by Douglas Boyce – but viola, cello, guitar and piano are also heard prominently in performances by a number of very fine soloists, including members of one of those ensembles that seem determined to prove their originality by making it hard to spell their names: counter)induction, starting with a small letter and broken up by a parenthesis because…well, just because. Thankfully, the music is appealing enough to overcome any silliness of spelling. It is, however, of interest mostly in smaller doses, except for listeners who unhesitatingly accept pretty much anything with a contemporary and more-or-less avant garde sound. Quintet l’homme armé (2003) for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano is cacophonic by intent and sounds much like the chittering of somewhat out-of-tune birds rather than anything to do with an “armed man” or the 15th-century tune on which Boyce’s work is loosely (very loosely) based. Etude No. 1 for Cello and Piano (2017), marked Stretto perpetuo, fits that designation rather well, with an ongoing ostinato motif for the cello – entirely atonal, not surprisingly – providing contrast with comparatively placid chords on the piano. Piano Quartet No. 2 (2008) handles the piano in quite a different way, the percussive keyboard writing contrasting with atonal glissandi in the high range of the strings, producing, eventually, a sense of having arrived at an unknown destination. Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind (2019), a trio for violin, guitar and percussion, includes some actual melodic handling of the guitar and some clever contrasts between the two stringed instruments – with their very different playing requirements – and the percussion complement. This is the most intriguing work on the disc in its exploration of differing sonic timbres and its alternation of close interactivity among the disparate instruments with tightly knit sections for the three together. The CD concludes with The Hunt by Night (2020) for clarinet, cello, and piano, returning to the clarinet focus of the disc’s beginning and also returning to the largely directionless bounce and lack of discernible progress or goal that appear in the CD’s first work. All five pieces here are intermittently interesting, but none really sustains cohesively from start to finish – indeed, cohesiveness seems quite far from the intentionality of any of this music. The compositions treat the winds and other instruments in recognizably similar ways, and all share a sense of determined modernity that will appeal to a limited audience and appears quite uninterested in anything beyond that.

     The three works on an MSR Classics release featuring the UMass Wind Ensemble under Matthew Westgate also have little of significance in common except the scoring. Like Boyce’s chamber offerings, these are all very recent pieces, with that by David Maslanka (1943-2017) dating to 2016, that by Stacy Garrop (born 1969) to 2017, and that by David Biedenbender (born 1984) to 2019; all are world première recordings. Maslanka’s piece is for piano (played by Nadine Shank) and winds, Garrop’s for saxophone (played by Jonathan Hulting-Cohen) and winds, and Biedenbender’s for wind ensemble without a specific instrument highlighted. The CD appears to be as much a showpiece for the wind grouping as for the composers and their music – which means it will be of special interest to people who themselves are wind players, but perhaps less so to non-wind-performing listeners. It opens with Garrop’s three-movement Quicksilver, which is nominally about the god Hermes (in Greek myth) or Mercury (Roman). Listeners who know the musical portrayal of Mercury, the Messenger by Gustav Holst will find little of similar lightness or flightiness here, even in the concluding movement, Messenger of Olympus. Garrop’s extensive use of dissonance and his method of using the saxophone mostly within the overall ensemble rather than, as might be expected, in front of it, mean that this becomes less of a “personality portrayal” than an audience will likely expect. The actual writing for winds is skillful, but there is insufficient differentiation among the movements to give a fully developed sense of the aspects of the god, despite the implications of the movement titles – the first being Antics of a Newborn God and the second Guiding Souls to the Underworld. Next on the disc is Maslanka’s Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Wind Ensemble, an extended single-movement work bearing the subtitle “Do You Know My Name?” The piece expresses many moods, some more effectively than others, and gives the piano a role that lies somewhere between solo and obbligato. Like all three works on this disc, this one is performed skillfully and for the most part convincingly. The final piece on the CD is Biedenbender’s What Is Written on the Leaves. This is a three-movement work, like Garrop’s, and is on the same scale – indeed, the two are almost identical in length. Also like Garrop’s, this piece features movement titles that are intended to be evocative: I No Longer Recognize My Hands, Coming Home, and And the Trees Clap for Winter. Biedenbender’s sonorities are more varied and his work’s construction somewhat more complex than that of Garrop: there is a very definite percussive undercurrent throughout What Is Written on the Leaves, even in the more-inward-looking second and longest movement (which lasts almost as long as the others put together). The movements’ titles are at best an imperfect guide to the sounds of the music, which range from massed dissonance to rather tenderly accentuated longer lines that, however, can never quite be described as lyrical. The work is tied largely to a poem that provides its overall title and the title of its first movement, but it conveys meaning without requiring knowledge of its literary roots – a welcome difference from the situation in many other contemporary works. The massed sound of the first movement and the more-delicate (and more-intricate) sound world of the second lead to a dancelike finale that cannot seem to decide whether to use dark or bright colors and ends up juxtaposing both, somewhat uneasily. The unusual sound world of What Is Written on the Leaves makes it the most interesting of the three pieces on this disc, although some of its repetitive gestures, especially the percussive ones, become tiresome after a while. Listeners interested in the most up-to-date compositional uses of wind sounds will find a good deal to think about on this CD, although all the works on it have a tendency to make their points and then make them again and again at somewhat greater length than the material can readily bear.

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