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Paul Chihara: Ain't No Sunshine, Piano Quintet / Rogé, Weiss, Kaplan

Release Date: 07/08/2008 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9267   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Paul Chihara
Performer:  Yael WeissMark KaplanClancy NewmanPascal Rogé,   ... 
Conductor:  Paul Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ysa˙e String QuartetOdense Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CHIHARA Ain’t No Sunshine. 1 Piano Quintet, “La foce.” 2 Minidoka. 3 An Afternoon on the Perfume River 4 Mark Kaplan (vn); 1 Clancy Newman (vc); 1 Yael Weiss (pn); 1 Ysaÿe Str Read more Qrt; 2 Pascal Rogé (pn); 2 Alan R. Kay (cl); 3 Richard O’Neill (va); 3 Barbara Allen (hp); 3 Daniel Druckman (perc); 3 Paul Mann, cond; 4 Odense SO 4 BRIDGE 9267 (59:26)

Paul Chihara (b. 1938) celebrates his 70th birthday as I write this, and he is one of those rarest of creatures, an American composer who has had equally illustrious careers in both concert music and film/TV. As a “media composer,” Chihara has accumulated great technique and facility, as well as a natural feel for a wide range of musical languages/traditions. The good news for concert listeners is that this polystylism fits naturally with his temperament, and doesn’t lead to pandering; Chihara seems genuinely eager to know and embrace as wide a range of musical experiences as possible.

While all these pieces use preexistent sources to some degree as the foundation for each, they seem to fall into two categories. I find the opening two works, for traditional chamber ensembles, the most compelling. Ain’t No Sunshine (2006) is a piano trio that references throughout (though never literally) the Bill Withers blues ballad, Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone . The 2007 Piano Quintet (subtitled “La foce”) is a response to the World War II memoirs of Iris Origo, quotes a partisan song Bella ciao in its second movement, and is rich in neo-impressionist harmonies. Both pieces are exquisitely crafted, have traditional surge and flow, project real drama and rhythmic drive, and abound in wonderful tunes.

Minidoka (1996) is a lyric response to the composer’s childhood memories of internment in World War II with his Japanese-American family. For something that’s a great stain on this nation’s honor and memory, Chihara takes an exceedingly generous stance, filtering the experience through a child’s eye of play and wonder (I’m reminded a bit of John Boorman’s great film of the London Blitz, Hope and Glory ). Though the notes don’t indicate this, it seems to have an electroacoustic part that periodically comments on the proceedings with dreamlike collages of traditional Japanese music and 1940s pop. An Afternoon on the Perfume River (2002) is a response to a poem by the North Vietnamese poet Nguyen Khao Diem, portraying a moment of peace and natural beauty in the midst of wartime. There are whiffs of Southeast Asian folk song throughout (including one, never identified, that Chihara heard whistled by an extra on the set of China Beach ). The orchestration is lush and similarly “perfumed.”

These latter two works are quite beautiful and successful in their evocative purpose. Nevertheless, it’s the former two chamber pieces that really stick with me. Chihara has a great melodic gift matched with a capacity to spin out variants on his tunes, exploring their implications (especially harmonic) in myriad ways. There’s both rigorous craft and playful fantasy at work here, hand in hand.

Though I find the design a little tacky, the cover art of the CD presents an affecting image—the composer’s head is superimposed on every figure in a group shot of children, hands on heart as though reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which looks as though it might be a period shot from an internment camp. Aside from the obvious poignancy of the history involved, it suggests how Chihara asserts his essential “Americanness,” and not only in the obvious political way. As these pieces demonstrate, he assumes it’s his right to embrace and use whatever tradition and language he chooses, and make it his own. I couldn’t applaud more.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Ain’t No Sunshine by Paul Chihara
Performer:  Yael Weiss (Piano), Mark Kaplan (Violin), Clancy Newman (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2006 
Length: 14 Minutes 48 Secs. 
Quintet for Piano and Strings "La foce" by Paul Chihara
Performer:  Pascal Rogé (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ysa˙e String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2007; United States 
Length: 20 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Minidoka by Paul Chihara
Performer:  Barbara Allen (Harp), Alan R. Kay (Clarinet), Richard O'Neill (Viola),
Daniel Druckman (Percussion)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; United States 
Length: 11 Minutes 29 Secs. 
An Afternoon on the Perfume River by Paul Chihara
Conductor:  Paul Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Odense Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002; United States 
Length: 12 Minutes 0 Secs. 

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