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Chicago Clarinet Trio

Anweiler / Combs / Deroche / Campos
Release Date: 09/14/2010 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1211   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Andrzej AnweilerMax RaimiJohn McCabeLarry Combs,   ... 
Performer:  Larry CombsJulie DeRocheWagner CamposRick Ferguson,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CHICAGO CLARINET TRIO Larry Combs, Julie DeRoche, Wagner Campos (cl); Roderick Ferguson (pn); Brad Opland (db); Fred Selvaggio (perc) ALBANY TROY 1211 (53: 18)

ANWEILER Diversions for 2 Clarinets. RAIMI Challenging Etudes for Brilliant Clarinetists. McCABE Bagatelles. COMBS Diversions for 3 Read more Clarinets. BERMÚDEZ Retrato VI

Here is a disc of clarinet duos and trios, not something one hears every day. Among the three members of the Chicago Clarinet Trio, most readers will know of Larry Combs, the principal of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 30 years until 2008. The other two, Julie DeRoche and Wagner Campos, are well known in clarinet circles and among concertgoers in Chicago. Getting right to the point, this represents the state of the art in clarinet playing, and I can’t imagine another disc of multiple clarinets coming close. And, by the way, the music is terrific, too.

Works for multiples of the same instrument (or families of instruments) have been popular among composers (especially Minimalists) in the last few decades, but are fairly rare before then (with the major exception of duos conceived for pedagogical purposes). None of the works here fit the Minimalist or didactic label, but all of the composers write idiomatically for the family of clarinets. One explanation may be that most of the four composers are primarily instrumentalists themselves.

None of these works come from the pen of household names (though John McCabe comes close), but all are fine works that reward multiple hearings. Andrzej Anweiler’s Diversions for a pair of B?-clarinets is thoroughly attractive, with four movements that have some kind of extramusical inspiration. My favorite is “Pimp the Cat,” a rollicking piece of swing written in honor of one of the composer’s favorite bands. The notes give no other clue to their identity or style, but a quick search turned up a very interesting find for anyone interested in eclectic jam bands. In our Google age, this is how discoveries are made.

Max Raimi is a highly regarded violist in the Chicago area, but Challenging Etudes for Brilliant Clarinetists shows not only his skill as a composer but also conveys a distinct knack for cheeky titles. The first movement (“Busy, Busy, Busy”) requires the three players to perform both B?- and bass clarinets, though a few notes in the first movement would strike most listeners as dead ringers for the higher E?-clarinet (the range being one of many justifications for the title). “Klezmer Dysfunction” makes for a spot-on finale, again with some stratospheric high notes and blistering passagework.

John McCabe’s Bagatelles is the other work requiring just two players. These consist of eight short, pithy movements, and convey much more meaning than their modest proportions and instrumentation might suggest. Each one deserves description and comment, but I’ll limit myself to the remarkable “Crescendo,” a dense flurry of activity that shows both performers and composer in a gripping tour de force of invention and virtuosity.

The title of Combs’s Diversions refers to something distinct from its usual suggestion of an entertaining distraction, though some of that comes through. Instead he seems intent on showing a dizzying variety of styles within a single work, from craggy, atonal miniatures to high-flying swing. It all works very well, and completely expected for a musician well known for his eclectic tastes. “Tango” meets some of the usual expectations, while foiling others. “Unisono” is a haunting, lonely monologue for three players that reflects the early influence on Combs of the second Viennese school.

The most ambitious work on the disc is the engrossing Retrato VI (adding piano, percussion, and double bass) by the Costa Rican composer Eddie Mora Bermúdez. The composer covers a lot of ground in 11 minutes, but the outstanding feature is the skillful blend of a European framework with Afro-Latin American touches, requiring ample virtuosity, flair, and a good dose of sarcastic humor. This is a composer to take notice of.

These are all strong works, but to borrow and paraphrase a cliché from the theater, these three could play from a phone book and it would sound beguiling. It would be a pity if they let much time pass before they commission pieces from the best names in the business. If composers gave this disc a listen, I can’t possibly imagine a refusal.

FANFARE: Michael Cameron
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Works on This Recording

Diversions for Two Clarinets by Andrzej Anweiler
Performer:  Larry Combs (Clarinet), Julie DeRoche (Clarinet)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Challenging Etudes for Brilliant Clarinetists by Max Raimi
Performer:  Julie DeRoche (Clarinet), Larry Combs (Clarinet), Wagner Campos (Clarinet)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Bagatelles for Two B-flat Clarinets by John McCabe
Performer:  Larry Combs (Clarinet), Julie DeRoche (Clarinet)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: England 
Diversions for Three Clarinets by Larry Combs
Performer:  Julie DeRoche (Clarinet), Larry Combs (Clarinet), Wagner Campos (Clarinet)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Retrato VI by Eddie Mora Bermúdez
Performer:  Rick Ferguson (Piano), Wagner Campos (Clarinet), Larry Combs (Clarinet),
Julie DeRoche (Clarinet), Bradley Opland (Double Bass), Fred Selvaggio (Percussion)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Costa Rica 

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