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ClassicsOnline Home » Clarinet Recital: Brunner, Eduard - WIDMANN, J. / BERIO, L. / JOLIVET, A. / DENISOV, E. / GOEHR, A. / HOSOKAWA, T. / REIMANN, A.
The eminent Swiss-born, German-based clarinettist Eduard Brunner has had an immense influence on the development of modern repertoire for his instrument, commissioning and premièring an extraordinary number of new works from the world’s leading composers. His phenomenal technique underlies an adventurous approach to music without for an instant sacrificing its emotional impact, the absolute beauty of tone he produces or the thrill of discovering previously unheard sonorities. By turns exuberant, introspective and hypnotic, the works on this disc chart rewarding new territories for the inquisitive listener.
MUSIC FOR SOLO CLARINET
Widmann • Hosokawa • Berio • Reimann • Lourié • Denisov • Goehr • Pousseur • Lehmann • Nieder • Jolivet
Although it was the last to join the family of mainstream woodwind instruments, being admitted to the orchestra only in the l770s, the clarinet enjoyed far greater exposure than either the flute, oboe or bassoon in the nineteenth century, when it became a regular feature of the concerto and chamber genres. Opportunities were diminished in the first half of the last century, when the instrument’s suavity and smoothness of tone did not always find favour in progressive circles, but the postwar era was to see a renewed interest in its possibilities, partly through the emergence of a number of virtuoso players keen to develop new playing techniques, but also because of its adaptability over a range of musical and expressive contexts. The present disc features works by eleven composers who represent diverse musical aesthetics, and who have found ways of tailoring the clarinet’s intrinsic qualities to their own evolution. Several have already acquired the status of modern classics, with the remainder worth the attention of all inquisitive clarinettists.
The German composer Jörg Widmann (b. 1973) came to prominence as a clarinet virtuoso and has pursued a high-profile career in both capacities. Fantasie (1993) was written with his own formidable technique in mind, drawing on aspects of jazz, dance and klezmer music in the process. The opening features advanced techniques as well as sorties into extremes of register, with veiled phrases from its depths soon apparent. Latterly a driving motion provides greater focus, before the music draws on earlier elements towards the close.
Resident during much of his career in Germany, Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955) has evolved increasingly sophisticated means of aligning Occident and Orient in his music, and is probably the most important Japanese composer after Takemitsu. EDI (2009) is dedicated to Eduard Brunner and the title is a shortened form of the German name Eduard, used by his friends. The work is a microcosm of his mature style. The music focuses on undulating phrases with upper and lower registers brought into conflict, yet there are more ruminative elements that extend the piece’s expressive range without disrupting its discreet continuity.
Scattered throughout the extensive output of Luciano Berio (1925–2003) are solo miniatures which refine his thinking down to its essence. One such piece is Lied (1983), written for Steven Kanoff and an instance of the lyricism seldom far beneath the surface of his music. This is essentially a pensive study in lower sonorities and ricocheting phrases that between them evoke a context for the ‘song’ of the title. While a study in abstraction, it could equally be seen as a counterpart to vocal works written at much the same time.
Long established as accompanist to a host of international singers, Aribert Reimann (b. 1936) is also a composer of distinction, notably for his sequence of operas drawing on an array of subjects. Written for Sabine Meyer, Solo (2000) is a monologue of notable dramatic import. Thus a wide range of expressive archetypes is drawn upon, the instrument striking various and constantly changing poses that suggest competing aspects of a single persona. At length the more introspective side takes hold and sees the piece on to its close.
The composer Artur Lourié (1892–1966) enjoyed an eventful career in pre-war Russia, through the early years of the Soviet Union then Paris between the wars, before settling in New York. Often (unfairly) seen as an epigone of Stravinsky, his mercurial character is to the fore in The Mime (1956), dedicated to Charles Chaplin. It exudes a lively, even playful manner in which phrases are repeated to provide symmetry and balance. Brief but affecting use of the lower chalumeau register helps to reinforce the theatrical connotations of the title.
French music, particularly that of the post-war avant-garde, held an attraction for Edison Denisov (1929–1996), who actually settled in Paris following the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Sonata for Solo Clarinet (1972) is in two brief but contrasting movements. The first is a reflective but by no means subdued monologue, countered in the second movement by a greater rhythmic flexibility and range of expression, given focus by a repeated-note pattern that soon branches out into more elaborate phrases then on to a quizzical close.
Born in Berlin, the British composer Alexander Goehr (b. 1932) has written across the range of genres, the stylistic breadth of his music reflecting that of his cultural and philosophical concerns. Not the least significant is the music of Monteverdi, as evident in his Paraphrase on ‘Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda’ (1969), written for Alan Hacker. The piece draws directly on this ‘dramatic madrigal’, but the underlying impression is a sustained exploration of Monteverdian elements with no trace of specious authenticity.
A leading figure in the European avant-garde, Henri Pousseur (1929–2009) was also highly regarded for his pioneering work at Liège Conservatoire. Madrigal I (1958) is the first of three such pieces reflecting his interest in ‘vocal’ writing for means other than the human voice. The smoothness of its phrasing and unfolding logic of its melodic elements suggest the vocal connotation of its title while the theatrical gestures to which it often resorts are in keeping with the ‘madrigal’ as it evolved at the height of the Renaissance era.
The Swiss composer Hans Ulrich Lehmann (b. 1937) has amassed a sizable output that takes in large-scale works as well as miniatures which define the essence of his style. One such is Mosaik (1964), among several instrumental works that focus on the possibilities of a single musical ‘line’. The various elements are sharply juxtaposed, while their tendency to merge into spans of subtly related timbre and texture perhaps brings to mind the construction of a mosaic in which order and continuity are achieved by their precise opposites.
Another composer well known for his activities as an accompanist to numerous international singers, Fabio Nieder (b. 1957) has written prolifically in most of the main genres – Terracotta (1995) being one of his shortest compositions. Whether or not its sound qualities are thought to be equivalents for its title, the eerie evocation conjured up in spite (or perhaps because) of its brief time-span might almost be the musical translation of the material as found in its most famous usage in the Chinese province of Xian.
An influential figure on French music between the wars and in the post-war era. André Jolivet (1905–1974) touched on a range of aesthetics during his career. The concept of ‘monody’ is uppermost in Ascèses (1967), its sections prefaced by quotations from poet Max-Pol Fouchet, philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and an ancient Egyptian papyrus. The first section has a secretive atmosphere with only a brief upsurge of intensity towards its close. The second section is livelier in manner with effective use of flutter-tonguing, while the third section evolves over a stable rhythm with a steadily accruing momentum. The fourth section picks up on the quiet close of its predecessor in music subdued and lyrical, then the fifth section draws on earlier aspects to see the work to its thoughtful close.
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