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After You, Mr. Gershwin! / Andre Moisan, Jean Saulnier

Kovacs / D'rivera / Mercure / Moisan / Saulnier
Release Date: 04/24/2012 
Label:  Atma Classique   Catalog #: 2517  
Composer:  Béla KovácsDaniel MercureJoseph HorowitzRobert Muczynski,   ... 
Performer:  André MoisanJean Saulnier
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

AFTER YOU, MR. GERSHWIN! André Moisan (cl); Jean Saulnier (pn) ATMA 2517 (76:22)

KOVÁCS After You, Mr. Gershwin! D’RIVERA Sonata, “Cape Cod Files.” MERCURE Pour mon ami Léon. HOROWITZ Clarinet Sonatine. MUCZYNSKI Read more Time Pieces. MOWER Clarinet Sonata

On the back of this CD box, André Moisan writes, “I have enormous respect for clarinetists, like Benny Goodman and so many others, who were able to stimulate composers to cross over the border separating jazz from the more ‘classical’ world.” And in this CD, Moisan’s playing is clearly indebted to Goodman tonally: Once again we hear that very bright, slightly reedy upper range that was a Goodman trademark throughout his career.

But first, allow me to wind the tape back about 30 years. I was working in telemarketing then, and one of my co-workers was a woman who studied classical clarinet. I asked her how she liked Benny Goodman’s recordings of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto and Quintet. She turned her nose up in that international nasal pose that indicates, “He stinks,” and commented that trained clarinetists do not take Mr. Goodman’s forays into classical music very seriously. I mean, that wood tone he got! How gauche! How non-classical!

At that point I slinked off into a corner and questioned her no more. How could I tell her that Benny Goodman carefully cultivated his tone by synthesizing the qualities he admired most in the New Orleans clarinetists, particularly Johnny Dodds and Leon Roppolo, who were his early idols? She wouldn’t understand a word of what I was saying, because she’d probably never even heard of, let alone heard, Dodds or Roppolo. But I knew at least two New York-area reed players who thought very highly of Goodman’s classical recordings, and in fact I heard him live in 1967 playing a Weber clarinet concerto (I’ve lost the program and forget which one, but he recorded both for RCA with the very fastidious Jean Martinon) and doing a fabulous job of it.

And of course, the slightly acrid and piercing upper range that Goodman used also owed a great deal to Eastern European folk music. In the Jewish sections they called it klezmer; in the Hungarian backwoods they had different names, but Bela Bartók recognized the style when he composed Contrasts on commission for Goodman (and fellow-Hungarian violinist Josef Szigeti) in 1938. And this klezmer style of clarinet playing, with its cries of joy and pain, also influenced young George Gershwin when he wrote that famous clarinet intro to Rhapsody in Blue in 1924. Thus there have been all sorts of cross-currents in the blending of folk music and/or jazz with classical, going back to the time when a 15-year-old Goodman was shooed off the bandstand of the Wolverines Orchestra when they played Chicago that year by the band’s star cornetist, Bix Beiderbecke. Benny, still in short pants, shocked the hell out of Beiderbecke when he picked up Jimmy Hartwell’s clarinet and started to play it.

Béla Kovács’s After You, Mr. Gershwin! takes 1920s pop-jazz licks and transforms them via irregular rhythms. A blues-influenced melody crops up as the tempo comes way down; a number of little touches, such as short staccato spits on the instrument, are introduced before the tempo picks up again. Now the melody alternates between Hungarian and American rhythms, with a decided proclivity toward the latter. It’s more a showpiece than anything else, but a fun showpiece it is.

Moisan commissioned Paquito d’Rivera to write the “Cape Cod Files” Sonata for him. It immediately begins in that low, wood-tone register that Goodman borrowed from another New Orleans clarinetist, Jimmie Noone, and the style is unmistakably bluesy. Once again, this composer has fun with irregular rhythms, which eventually move into a boogie-woogie bass for the piano (excellently played by Jean Saulnier). Jazz historians will, of course, know that Benny actually had two distinct periods or styles of playing: the “hot” style (which one can hear on records from 1927 through 1938) in which he often employed a dirty, rasping tone on certain accented notes to accentuate his jazz roots, and that which he used after he had played and recorded the music of Mozart and Bartók, a style in which he occasionally played high notes with a bright, pungent tone, but which was overall rounder and purer. It is this later Goodman style (which, of course, covered the greater part of his career, from 1939 until his death in 1986) that Moisan and d’Rivera exploit here in this sonata.

The second movement, ironically, is set as an Argentinian milonga, a type of music that Goodman never played (and, I daresay, was probably unfamiliar with), but it is an effective piece in and of itself. Again, d’Rivera plays with the rhythmic beats and even employs accelerated passages that, in an Argentinean sort of way, do echo a jazz style. Nevertheless, the overall mood of this movement is nostalgic, and after the fast passages there are indeed clarinet phrases that resemble some of the ballad playing Goodman employed. In fact, one might make a case that most of the sonata pays homage to d’Rivera’s Latin roots (he was born in Cuba), since the last two movements, titled “Lecuonerias” (played entirely solo by the clarinet, and quite beautifully so) and “Chiquita Blues,” are definitely in Latin American styles. “Chiquita Blues,” in fact, sounds awfully close to d’Rivera’s jazz composition style and, again, I curtsy to pianist Saulnier for properly catching the right rhythm and mood. As for Moisan, he’s obviously having a ball playing it.

Daniel Mercure’s Pour mon ami Léon is a departure from the jazz-Latin theme pursued so far in this disc. Written to honor one of the clarinetist’s dearest friends, pianist and conductor Léon Bernier, the dedicatee received a recording of the work just a few days before he died. It is, as might be expected, a nostalgic, almost elegiac piece in D?. The piano accompaniment consists primarily of soft half-note chords in the opening section, bell-like arpeggios in the middle, and a decidedly jazz-ballad rhythm in the last section.

This is followed by the Sonatine for Clarinet and Piano by Austrian composer Joseph Horowitz, b. 1926, a pupil of Gordon Jacob and Nadia Boulanger, not to be confused with the American culture historian of the same name whose principal mission in life seems to be to destroy Toscanini’s standing as a great musician. Written for the great British clarinetist Gervase de Peyer, it suggests jazz rhythms lightly rather than stating them obviously. The first movement, in E?, ruminates through difficult scale passages for the clarinet while the piano plays a running commentary, mostly in arpeggiated chords. Now, bear in mind that this is my first hearing of this sonatine, and an artist’s interpretation does sometimes color one’s impression if it differs slightly from the written score, but I can’t help but feel that the second-movement Lento has subtle rhythmic inflections in the direction of Bill Evans-type jazz. (One always wonders about this since Evans, the most classically influenced of all modern jazz pianists, had a strong influence especially on European-born composers.) There is, however, a distinctly jazz feel to the way Moisan and Saulnier play the finale, con brio . (I’ve long liked and admired de Peyer because he can play so many different styles, but I wonder how jazzy his own performance of this sonatine may have sounded.) At times, yet again, the rhythm leans in the direction of Latin rhythm, in this case much like The Peanut Vendor . And yet again, the composer here breaks up the rhythmic patterns to add interest to what would have been an otherwise straightforward piece.

Robert Muczynski’s Time Pieces is aptly described in the liner notes as combining a slight jazz influence with the compositional styles of Hindemith and Copland. Here, the piano is very much an equal partner, alternating lines with the clarinet or adding counterpoint as it again shifts rhythms. The third movement, which begins in a gentle, rocking Allegro moderato, is played in eight beats divided as three-plus-five, then moves into a faster section that is either 4/4 played in triplets or 12/8. These two rhythmic patterns continue to alternate and play off each other as the music develops. A solo, out-of-tempo B?-clarinet introduction to the last movement leads into brilliant, fast music, with an almost show tune rhythm.

This is the first recording of Mike Mower’s Clarinet Sonata. Although this piece only occasionally tends toward jazz, it is thoroughly contemporary in melodic feeling and employs tempo and harmonic shifting, even within the voicings of the piano chords, which resemble the work of Thomas Adès. The jazz influence comes up now and then, as in the first movement, in the most unexpected and surprising places; at one point, Mower has both instruments playing together in unison on a brief passage that sounds for all the world like a snippet from a Goodman Trio recording. As annotator Paul Bon puts it, the second movement, “Entropy,” is lyrical and relaxed, patching up “the cracks that had been happily strewn through the other movements.” I feel, however, that this movement goes on a bit too long. The last movement, “Changes,” is even spikier than the first, its atonality resembling free jazz in some respects, though with the re-entry of the piano we are more harmonically grounded. Here, again, the music has a strong Adès-influenced feel to it.

These are the only available recordings of any of these pieces except Muczynski’s Time Pieces. Other versions of the Muczynski are performed by clarinetist Peter Furniss with David Leiher Jones (Clarinet Classics 54), Alexey and Marina Gorokholinsky on Classical Records 47766, and clarinetist Mitchell Lurie with the composer at the piano (Laurel LR-863), but I can’t imagine that they’d be so far superior to this excellent version. This is an absolute gem of a disc. I cannot praise it highly enough for either the music chosen or its performance.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

After You, Mr. Gershwin by Béla Kovács
Performer:  André Moisan (Clarinet), Jean Saulnier (Piano)
Pour mon ami Léon by Daniel Mercure
Performer:  André Moisan (Clarinet), Jean Saulnier (Piano)
Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano by Joseph Horowitz
Performer:  André Moisan (Clarinet), Jean Saulnier (Piano)
Time Pieces, Op. 43 by Robert Muczynski
Performer:  André Moisan (Clarinet), Jean Saulnier (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1984; USA 
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Mike Mower
Performer:  André Moisan (Clarinet), Jean Saulnier (Piano)
The Cape Cod Files by Paquito D'Rivera
Performer:  André Moisan (Clarinet), Jean Saulnier (Piano)

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