Fancy That! REVOLVE AJM1314 [66:12]
John DANKWORTH (b.1927)
Suite for Emma
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1917-1990)
Sonata for clarinet and piano
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Le Tombeau de Ravel
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Robert MUCZYNSKI (b.1929)
Andre PREVIN (b.1929)
Alan Vivian, clarinet; Susanne Powell, piano
Recorded at Llewellyn Hall, Canberra, ACT, Australia, August 1998
SCROLL FURTHER DOWN PAST THESE RAVE REVIEWS FOR THE EXCELLENT LINER NOTES BY COLIN FOX OF THE ABC (AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION)
RECORDING OF THE MONTH - April 2004 - AS REVIEW ON MusicWeb - http://www.musicweb.uk.net
Alan Vivian is one of the most brilliant young clarinettists around at present. Though Australian by birth (and this is an Australian issue), he has an established name in Europe too, having guested as Principal Clarinet with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London and the Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera. He is well-known as a recitalist and concerto soloist, and has a growing discography, not only with Revolve, but with Sony and EMI amongst others. All of which goes a long way towards explaining the brilliant technique and musicianship on display here. Several of these pieces offer daunting challenges to the soloist, but you wouldn't guess that from the exuberant elan with which Vivian throws them off.
Some might find his tone a little bright, even hard. It is certainly a long way from the mellow Brymer type of sound. Yet the brilliance inside Vivian's sound suits the repertoire he presents here down to the ground, for much of it is jazz-inspired, as you would expect from the likes of Dankworth, Bernstein and Previn. And Vivian can play with a sweetly drawn beauty of tone when the music calls for it.
The Dankworth Suite for Emma was composed for Emma Johnson, another outstanding clarinettist of the younger generation, whom many will still recall as BBC Young Musician of the Year back in 1984. This is a delightful piece, beginning with a Valse that reminds us how great is the affinity between the sound and range of the clarinet with the voice of Dankworth's wife Cleo Laine, as suggested in Colin Fox's excellent booklet notes.
At the start of the Bernstein Sonata, written in the early 1940s when the composer was fresh out of Harvard, I was taken with the echoes of Hindemith. It does take a little while for Bernstein's characteristic voice to come through, as it does unmistakably in the final Vivace. But this is an enjoyable, convincing piece which is well worth its place in this collection. Jazz or popular music influences are less close to the surface in Benjamin's Tombeau de Ravel (Tribute to Ravel). But the theme of rhythmic inventiveness and unpredictability continues in this well-rounded single movement work.
Some might feel that the Rachmaninov Vocalise is out of place here. It is a true "pop classic", and, though originally intended for wordless soprano voice, it has been transcribed, with greater or lesser success, for just about every instrument under the sun (I'm working on the Shakuhachi version at this very moment). But its calmness and extended line acts as a very good foil to the sinewy, restless music to be found on many of these tracks. And it seems to me to suit the clarinet quite perfectly, reminding one of the many lovely solos for the instrument in the concertos and symphonies of the Russian composer.
Robert Muczynski, who was based at the University of Arizona in Tucson for many years, is represented by his excellent Time Pieces, of which there are four, adding up in effect to a short sonata. The style is often gritty but by no means hard on the ear, and the writing for the instrument is splendidly sympathetic. For me, the most attractive movement is the third, Allegro moderato, which begins with a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-the-mouth melody that alternates with more vigorous, aggressive music. The fourth piece is the longest, beginning with an introduction for unaccompanied clarinet, the piano joining once more for the concluding Allegro energico.
Andre Previn's lightly bluesy "encore" make a delightful conclusion to the programme. Susan Powell accompanies superbly well throughout, never a mere supporter, always an involved protagonist. This is a most distinguished disc, beautifully planned and executed, and the recording is ideal.
REVIEW BY RITA CREWS
CD: Fancy That!
Works for clarinet and piano
Review Published in THE STUDIO
The Music Teachers' Association of New South Wales Limited
We have be very fortunate this quarter in having such a wonderful selection of CDs to present to members. Yet another highly recommended release is this disc of duo works featuring the clarinet talents of Alan Vivian accompanied by Suzanne Powell on piano. Whilst this is a disc to be enjoyed by all, clarinet players and teachers in particular will find it a must to add to their shelves. Interesting works and first-class performers are always a winning combination and both can be found on this disc.
In all there are six contemporary works on the disc: Suite for Emma by John Dankworth; Leonard Bernstein's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano; Le Tombeau de Ravel by Arthur Benjamin; Vocalise Op. 24/14 by Rachmaninov; Robert Muczynski's Time Pieces and Andre Previn's Passing Fancy and Fancy Passing, from which the title of the disc is cleverly adapted
The contrasting four movements of Suite for Emma whilst having conventional titles, have some most unconventional strains and I particularly liked Vivian's smooth rendition of the 'Scherzo' with its rich jazz overtones. The warm tones of the clarinet sound superb in the 'Grazioso' movement.of Bernstein's work, whilst Benjamin's Tombeau explores its full range during the clarinet's conversation with the piano; as well, the repeated-note motif has a haunting beauty of its own.
It is always interesting hearing instrumental vocalise and the Rachmaninov is no exception with this gentle work that demonstrates the warm beauty of the instrument.
Then, in contrast, the four movements of Time Pieces once again have the clarinet and piano in deep conversation, at times in a rollicking explosion of sound, at times in exploring long, mellow lines or in creating a tense, brooding atmosphere.
The last works, Previn's two cameos are a fitting end to this delightful disc. One slow, one fast ,it is obvious that Alan Vivian thoroughly enjoyed playing this finale to the collection.
In the hands of a master the clarinet can, or course, talk; and there is no doubt that Alan Vivian is one of thls country's finest virtuoso players in a career that has seen him both as soloist in his own right, as well as Principal in a number of orchestras. He is currently a senior lecturer at the CSM in Canberra.
As to the cover of the CD, I was most intrigued by the visual similarity of the clarinet with a licorice stick - probably an old 'clarinet joke" but works very well. Informative liner notes by the ABC's Colin Fox accompany the disc. Released on the Revolve label the disc is available at good record stores. Just look for the black licorice sticks on pink background: "Fancy that!"
CD LINER NOTES BY COLIN FOX OF THE ABC (AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION)
Unlike the oboe, an ill wind that nobody blows good (Anon), and the flute, an instrument which does not have a good moral effect because it is too exciting (Aristotle), the clarinet has received a comparatively glowing press. Mozart in 1777, in a letter home from Mannheim to his father, exclaimed: "Oh, if only we had clarinets. You have no idea of the effect of clarinets!" And Berlioz, in his 1843 treatise on orchestration, wrote: "The clarinet, though appropriate to the expression of the most poetic ideas and sentiments, is really an epic instrument - the voice of heroic love." These opinions from two masters of orchestral colour more than counter the demonic lexicographer, Ambrose Bierce, whose Devil's Dictionary tells us that the clarinet is "an instrument of torture operated by a person with cotton in his ears." Anyway, we can ignore Bierce because he was rude about everything and everyone.
It was Mozart who guaranteed the clarinet a permanent place in the symphony orchestra, and as a virtuoso solo instrument. He made felicitous use of the clarinet in his later operas and in a number of piano concertos and symphonies. In particular, he was inspired by the Austrian virtuoso, Anton Stadler, to compose a quintet for clarinet and strings (1789) and a concerto (1791). Weber, Spohr and Brahms, in the 19th century, wrote concertos and chamber works for leading clarinet virtuosos of the day, and in 1938, jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman established his classical credentials with performances of Mozart's quintet, then commissioned virtuoso works from Bartok, Copland and Hindemith.
John Dankworth's Suite for Emma was written for a particular clarinetist - Emma Johnson, 1984 BBC Young Musician of the Year. Dankworth himself is a fine jazz clarinet player, and jazz is never far away in Suite for Emma. There are bluesy moments in the first movement, Valse, that one can imagine Dankworth's wife, Cleo Laine, singing; and the flourishes which end the Pavane and begin the Scherzo have the feel of jazz improvisation.
Leonard Bernstein began composing his Sonata for Clarinet and Piano not long after he may have got roaring drunk while dining with filmstar Tallulah Bankhead. This dinner, and Bernstein biographer Humphrey Burton casts doubt on the veracity of the anecdote, would have been at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1941 while Bernstein was a conducting student of Serge Koussevitsky at Tanglewood near Stockbridge. After Tanglewood, Bernstein traveled south for a holiday in Key West, Florida, where he listened to Cuban bands on Radio Havana. He wrote some dance music whose finale would find its way into West Side Story as "I like to be in America", and he began the clarinet sonata. The energetic moments of the sonata may owe something to Radio Havana, or they may have been inspired by Aaron Copland, a fellow-American composer much admired by Bernstein. The lyrical opening to the work echoes the style of the German composer Paul Hindemith, whose music Bernstein had played a year earlier while studying at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. For much of 1942, Bernstein lived in Boston where he completed the sonata, and where it had its first performance on April 21 at "an intimate affair of evening gowns and dinner coats" organised by Bernstein himself.
Arthur Benjamin was born in Sydney but lived most of his life in London, composing five operas and many orchestral, choral and chamber works. Le tombeau de Ravel is a waltz tribute to French composer Maurice Ravel. There are two versions of the piece - one for clarinet and piano, the other for viola and piano. Which came first?
The website of English clarinetist Gervase de Peyer has this claim: "In this work [Le Tombeau de Ravel] the composer ... asked Mr. de Peyer to arrange the original viola part for clarinet when it became clear that the intended first performer, William Primrose, was becoming too deaf to perform it. Mr. de Peyer made the first recording of this work in the nineteen fifties."
However, the website for the 1999 Primrose Memorial Scholarship Competition suggests that Le Tombeau is a "virtuosic Primrose transcription".
Let's give the composer the final word. The published score includes this note from Arthur Benjamin: "So as to make the work characteristic of either the Clarinet or Viola, it will be noticed that there are many differences (in the passage work especially) between the two. Thus it cannot be said that either is a transcription of the other."
Le Tombeau is in 3/4 time throughout, although cross-rhythms occasionally play havoc with the triple time pulse, the spirited Introduzione being a prime example. This brief introduction ends with three middle Cs from the piano, then the dancing can begin with six short waltzes. The first Poco lento is to be played with melancholy expression. The moods of the others match their Italian descriptions: Presto volante - fast flying, Andante semplice - easy-going simple, Allegro vigoroso - fast vigorous, Allegretto preciso - a little less than fast and precise, and Lento intimo - slow intimate. The Finale begins "not too fast" and ends with the ambiguous cross-rhythms of the Introduzione.
Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov left his homeland, never to return, shortly before Christmas in 1917. Up to that time, Rachmaninov had been a prolific composer of songs for voice and piano, eighty-seven of them between 1890 and 1916. He chose both romantic and symbolist Russian poets, and often wrote for specific singers, like Feodor Chaliapine. In the 26 years from his emigration until his death in Beverly Hills, California, Rachmaninov wrote only three songs. It was as if part of his heart had never left Russia.
Vocalise, Op 34 No 14, was composed in 1912 for soprano Antonina Nezhdanova. A vocalise is a wordless song and so begs to be played on the clarinet, the instrument most often likened to the soprano voice. The vocal line has been edited for clarinet by Stanley Drucker, principal clarinet with the New York Philharmonic since 1960.
Robert Muczynski is an American composer and pianist of Slovak descent. At the age of 25, he played his own Piano Concerto No 1 with the Louisville Orchestra. From 1965 until retirement in 1988, he was Professor and Head of Composition at The University of Arizona in Tucson. Muczynski's works have been widely acclaimed, including a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1982 for his Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Chamber Orchestra, and "Best Contemporary Composition" for his Piano Sonata No 2 at the 1992 Sydney International Piano Competition.
Time Pieces was commissioned by clarinetist Mitchell Lurie who, with Muczynski, gave the first performance in London in 1984. The composer writes: "The title of the work has nothing to do with mechanical clocks or watches. It is not a play on words but rather an awareness of the fact that everything exists in time: history, our lives and - in a special way - music." He describes the first movement (Allegro risoluto) as "a rather aggressive kind of music wherein the clarinet and piano participate in a dialogue". In the second movement (Andante espressivo) "the texture of the writing is sparse, affording the solo instrument the opportunity of projecting a long, sustained musical line from beginning to end". The third movement (Allegro moderato) begins and ends as "a wistful scherzo" with a "jaunty and more outgoing" middle section. And the final movement begins with "unaccompanied clarinet rendering a brooding statement (Andante molto) which gains in intensity and accelerates to the final tempo (Allegro energico) at which time the piano rejoins the clarinet in music of joyous abandon".
André Previn's career is as diverse and as successful as any musician could wish. He has composed, arranged and conducted movie soundtracks collecting Oscars for Gigi, Porgy and Bess, Irma la Douce and My Fair Lady. His recordings, as jazz pianist, of My fair Lady, Pal Joey and West Side Story are masterly, as are many of his classical recordings, especially those from his time as Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra (1969-1979). And in recent years, his compositions are being enthusiastically performed and recorded, notably his 1998 opera A Streetcar Named Desire. Passing Fancy and Fancy Passing are a contrasting pair of encore pieces. The first, to borrow a phrase from my ABC Classic FM colleague Charles Southwood, has a "late night sexy" feel to it. The second is unashamedly joyful and exuberant, a mood enhanced in this performance by an unauthorized, but utterly appropriate and exciting, molto accelerando in the final bars.