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ClassicsOnline Home » COPLAND, A.: Clarinet Concerto / ALDRIDGE, R.L.: Clarinet Concerto / Samba (D. Singer, A Far Cry, Shanghai Quartet)
Aaron Copland’s popular Clarinet Concerto, with its tender and poignant opening, highly virtuosic central cadenza and brilliantly jazzy final movement, is preceded by Robert L. Aldridge’s Clarinet Concerto, which has been described as the direct descendant of the Copland. Classical, folk, jazz and klezmer influences are brought together in a work which is infectious in its driving rhythms and soaring melodies. Aldridge’s Samba for clarinet and string quartet is an attempt to make this instrumentation sound like a Latin big-band. David Singer, the acclaimed longtime principal clarinetist of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, is joined on this recording by the internationally renowned Shanghai Quartet and A Far Cry Orchestra, a Boston-based collective of young professional string players who perform without a conductor and with rotating leadership.
By James Manheim
Robert Livingston Aldridge (b. 1954): Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra • Samba
Aaron Copland (1900-1990): Clarinet Concerto
David Singer and I have been friends and colleagues for many years and had performed Copland’s Clarinet Concerto together on numerous occasions on several continents. I was so pleased when he contacted me to produce his recording of this important work as I knew how beautifully he could play it and I was excited about making a recording of the piece that would showcase all the honesty, integrity and virtuosity that David brings to his music making. Robert Aldridge’s masterful new concerto and playful Samba would complete the recording. I couldn’t imagine a better pairing as Bob’s concerto is, in my mind, the direct descendant of the Copland. It combines the energy and verve of our American spirit with an awareness of world music and a profound sensitivity that permeates the entire work. Add to all this, the virtuosic talents of A Far Cry, the Shanghai Quartet and Jesse Lewis, our extraordinary engineer, and I believe that we have combined all the essential elements for a truly engaging listening experience.
– Donald Palma, Producer
This recording is the result of years of planning and dreaming. Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra was inspired by and written for my good friend and colleague, David Singer, commissioned by Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and given its première in April and May 2005 by David and those two estimable groups (the LACO première was conducted by Jeffrey Kahane). Shortly after the co-premières, David shared with me his idea of wanting to record a CD pairing my new concerto with Aaron Copland’s classic Clarinet Concerto. Needless to say, he didn’t have to twist my arm very hard to convince me that this was a great idea!
In early 2003, David asked me to compose a clarinet concerto for him that would combine elements of classical music, folk, jazz and klezmer. I wanted to compose a piece for David that would demonstrate his extraordinary range, depth and virtuosity on the clarinet. Knowing that two first-rate chamber ensembles would be premiering the piece, I also wanted to engage the orchestra to a greater degree than perhaps is normally done in the concerto genre. We also agreed that the traditional three movement concerto form (fast-slow-fast) would be the best structure for this work.
I wanted the first movement to be both driving and with great energy, but lyrical as well. The movement, largely in 12/8, attempts to combine music that is light, fast, playful, intense, tuneful and expressive. The second movement begins with a slow and serene melody built on successive rising fifths and is somewhat akin to a jazz ballad, scored for solo clarinet and muted strings. The B section of the movement offers a vivid contrast and a surprise (first the woodwinds accompany the clarinet, followed by brass), before recapitulating to the opening tune. The third movement is a fast, polka-like finale, with a driving and maniacal edge. Though there is no cadenza in the concerto, the demands of the clarinet writing throughout require a fearless soloist to demonstrate a huge range of styles, sounds, colors and techniques.
David Singer quickly mastered this concerto for the performances with Orpheus and LACO, and now four years later, his interpretation continues to grow and astonish. As the Star-Ledger stated in reviewing the première of the work: “Singer was brilliant…pity the poor clarinetist who has to follow in his footsteps.” Indeed!
Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto was completed in 1948, a commission from jazz legend Benny Goodman. The work was premiered by Goodman with Fritz Reiner leading the NBC Symphony Orchestra in a live broadcast in 1950. The concerto almost immediately entered the standard repertoire and is one of Copland’s most often played and recorded works (which is saying something!). It is scored for solo clarinet, piano, harp and strings.
The concerto has a novel structure: two continuous movements, linked by an extended clarinet cadenza. The first movement is certainly one of Copland’s most beautiful utterances in music: slow, serene, tender, mournful, and wonderfully poignant. As is usual with Copland, the simple exterior, with strings and harp accompanying the lyric clarinet, masks a deep and rich interior. The cadenza begins from nothing, growing inexorably to become an ecstatic and highly virtuosic show-piece: it is one of the most recognizable excerpts in the entire clarinet literature. The third movement begins with a perpetual motion type of figure in the piano (it’s first entrance in the piece) and some of the most exposed and treacherous violin and clarinet writing in the literature. The jazzy and brilliant finale is both raucous and playful.
David Singer knows this concerto intimately, having performed it many times with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. I can happily and honestly say that this is the best recording of the concerto that I have ever heard.
The chamber orchestra on recording, A Far Cry, are brilliant young players living in Boston. Their mentor is the producer of this recording, Donald Palma, who did a tremendous job making the recording as good as it is. His light but firm touch and his commanding expertise in performance and recording was an inspiration to all of us.
As an encore, we have included Samba, a five-minute work for clarinet and string quartet, which is an attempt to make this instrumentation sound like a latin big-band.
Special thanks to David Singer, The Shanghai Quartet, to my colleagues at the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University, and to Jesse Lewis from SoundMirror Inc. Thanks also to C.F. Peters, Boosey and Hawkes, John Newton and Dirk Sobotka at SoundMirror, and Preston Dibble at Immaculate Conception Church in Montclair.
– Robert Aldridge
This six-year project was a labor of love inspired by Bob’s exciting, fun, and beautifully lyrical concerto, which he happened to write for me! I believe the Aldridge Clarinet Concerto will very quickly become a favorite for clarinetists as well as the music loving public everywhere.
Samba, the last work on this recording, is also great fun to play and listen to. Special thanks to The Shanghai Quartet and A Far Cry, Don Palma, my colleague and friend with Orpheus for the past thirty years, to Jesse Lewis who drove all the way to Montclair, NJ on a rainy November afternoon looking for a church to record Samba, and to members of my family, especially Morrie Darnov and Shirley Greene, my uncle and aunt, whose very generous contributions made this project possible.
Six years ago when Bob asked me about the types of music I most enjoyed, Benny Goodman, Dave Tarras, Fritz Kreisler, Brahms, Dvořák and probably a few others popped into my head right away. The Aldridge Concerto has moments inspired by all of these great musicians and what is most impressive to me is that it is truly original. Infectious with driving rhythms and soaring melodies, this piece is engaging, accessible and fun!
It was a joy to record the Copland Clarinet Concerto. Listening to the great big band clarinetists of the late 1940s there was always beauty of sound, expressive lyrical phrasing and that famous phrase from Duke Ellington which underscored everything, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” My interpretation of the Copland Concerto embraces those ideals.
– David Singer
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COPLAND, A.: Clarinet Concerto / ALDRIDGE, R.L.: C...