Notes and Editorial Reviews
FLOWERS FOR THE BASS CLARINET
Jan Guns (b cl); Anastasia Koszushko (pn); Rita Rommes (perc); Moscow C Sol
PHAEDRA 92073 (68:18)
Van Heinde en Verre.
This album of music largely by contemporary Belgian composers (York Bowen was, of course, English and of an earlier generation) presents a varied program of pieces for bass clarinet, all written (the Bowen apart) for Jan Guns, Belgium’s principal exponent of the instrument. Stylistically, there’s nothing here to frighten the horses, and the disc opens in an almost light-music vein with Johan Favoreel’s
, for bass clarinet and string quartet, a charming
. Wilfried Westerlinck’s
Van Heinde en Verre
(From Far and Near) for bass clarinet and marimba (1990) starts with an extended solo for the marimba, the clarinet discreetly entering, dwelling on a five-note phrase that recurs periodically. Only around six minutes into the quarter hour does the dialog between the instruments become more animated, but it remains relaxed with little, if any, tension generated. The timbral contrast between the instruments is very attractive, and exploring this aspect of the instrumentation seems to be important for the composer. The style is, however, relentlessly lyrical in a subdued way.
for bass clarinet and string quartet (1932) is of a piece with the rest of the program. Running a quarter of an hour, it is in three movements that continue the disc’s relatively low energy, the outer movements both being
, very much
. The inner
Allegro con spirito, ma non troppo
has more energy, though the last movement’s passion is more than a little restrained (I think this is in the writing rather than the performance). I suppose the solo instrument’s tessitura predisposes composers to write music that’s low and slow for it. But there’s enough variety to sustain interest and justify the increasing interest in this composer. Alain Craens’s
(1992) is scored for bass clarinet with bells, vibraphone, marimba, and string quartet. It was originally for bass clarinet and piano, and the piano part seems to have been split in two; its percussion writing is, to an extent, decorative while the string players primarily support the harmony. The soloist is rather forward in this recording and tends to dominate the other instruments. The piece, as they say, does not outstay its welcome, though I was no wiser when it was over what the experience was meant to be.
Dirk Brossé’s Suite for Bass Clarinet and Piano turns out to be three earlier works (
La Soledad, Elegy,
) originally written for cello and orchestra, arranged for the new forces at Guns’s request. We are back in the world of
: lightweight presentations of some consonant, melodic material that could easily have originated as ballads from musicals.
in particular could have done with some tightening up; it runs 10 minutes and, while it has more contrast than have the other pieces, its lack of intellectual and emotional aspiration, coming after two similar pieces, becomes a little wearisome. Fredéric Devreese’s Tango for bass clarinet and marimba derives from the music Devreese wrote for the film
and makes a pleasant coda to the disc, albeit the writing for marimba is strictly functional.
Apart from the Brossé work, all these recordings have come from previous Phaedra CDs and they bring out the instrument’s sonorous character. There is some inconsistency in the sound world, for example between the Bowen and Craens pieces, but this is of little matter. There isn’t enough grit in the music on the disc for it to be a viable listen in one sitting but, individually, most of the pieces are diverting.
FANFARE: Jeremy Marchant
Works on This Recording
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