Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Two masterpieces for clarinet and strings

Bernard Herrmann was a very cultured man with wide-ranging interests that went well beyond music. His 1967 Clarinet Quintet Souvenirs de voyage has three movements, and each has an artistic inspiration. The first refers to A.E. Housman's On Wenlock Edge, from A Shropshire Lad:
On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble;
      His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
      And thick on Severn snow the leaves. 
The second takes its cue from J.M. Synge's play Riders to the Sea:
Michael has a clean burial in the far north, by the grace of the Almighty God. Bartley will have a fine coffin out of the white boards, and a deep grave surely. What more can we want than that? No man at all can be living for ever, and we must be satisfied.
The last movement was suggested by J.M.W. Turner's lovely Venetian watercolours:

Venice by moonlight, 1840

This is very appealing music, with the built-in Mozart and Brahms call-backs that come with the Clarinet and Strings format. There are Herrmann references as well: he was writing his superb Fahrenheit 451 score for Francois Truffaut at this time, which in turn makes reference to one of the greatest film scores of all time: Vertigo (1958).

There are plenty of other versions of Souvenirs de voyages out there, including a great disc with the Tippett Quartet and Julian Bliss, but this new disc with the Fine Arts Quartet and Michel Lethiec is really excellent.

Switching gears, we have David del Tredici's Magyar Madness, a piece with a more advanced musical style, and a wider expressive range than the Herrmann work. In spite of the often spiky phrases, there are still bits of Mozart and Brahms floating out there. David Krakauer, the clarinettist who premiered the work with the Orion String Quartet in 2007, asked Del Tredici to write something in the Klezmer style. His response: "Oy vey! Klezmer I can't do, but Hungarian I'll try." So we have the frenetic 25 minute Magyar Madness finale, based on Schubert's work for piano 4 hands, Divertissement a la Hongroise. This is witty, exciting, passionate music that's a showpiece for the clarinet, but also the strings. There's a fine recent disc of this piece with Krakauer and the Orion Quartet, but again the new disc meets those standards. We're lucky the record companies are paying attention to this music!

This new Naxos disc will be released on November 11, 2016.

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