Notes and Editorial Reviews
Concerto for Clarinet and Strings
Ransom Wilson (fl);
Cassatt Str Qrt;
David Shifrin (cl);
ALBANY TROY 1057 (68:18)
Ezra Laderman (b. 1924) studied composition with Stefan Wolpe and Mariam Gideon, and subsequently with Otto Luening at Columbia University, where he earned his M.A. in 1952. As a venerated instructor, he still teaches composition at Yale (at age 86, if Wikipedia is to be believed). In the course of his compositional career, Laderman has employed atonal technique in some works while composing tonally in others, but always demonstrating unqualified mastery in each. More recently, he often melds the two, creating a language that is neither here nor there, but one that creates a special and musically congenial place of its own. The
for flute and clarinet (published in 1997) fits into that last category. It presents 10 pithy, highly reasoned, and contrasted variations. At first, the work seems to be a set of variations
. In the first duet, however, further examination reveals an underlying intervallic sequence that becomes, in traditional contrapuntal manipulations, the hidden basis for each of the successive variations. In the sixth, Laderman connects the dots, revealing the hitherto hidden tune, and then continues to develop it in the same manner as in variations one through five. Along the way, Laderman explores the articulation, timbral, and sheer expressive possibilities of the two instruments. Given these demands, clarinetist David Shifrin’s and flutist Ransom Wilson’s performances are nothing short of phenomenal. That they are fully up to the technical hurdles of this music seems, after bar one, a guaranteed given. That they fully realize the poetic eloquence of this music, however, elevates their contribution to the status of music-making of the highest order.
for flute and string quartet (or string orchestra) is the earliest work on this offering. Dedicated to the flutist Samuel Baron, and published in its three-movement form in 1972, it is a purely atonal and rigorously virtuoso work. The flutist is busy throughout, dancing via his or her tone row above the long-held pedal points provided by the strings, and empowered to alter the time values of the notes of that tone row, thus lengthening or shortening the duration of the piece. Obliquely,
brought Charles Ives’s
to mind. Both Laderman’s and Ives’s pieces pit a wind narrative above a slow moving, indeed, almost static string ensemble, and both afford a glimpse into the cosmos.
The Clarinet Concerto was written for David Shifrin in 1991, and is completely tonal—indeed, in its inflections, actually post-Romantic. Nonetheless, it is pure Laderman, every molecule of it carefully thought out and combined with every other in a way as to realize the most expressive effect possible. Listening to it, I feel that I’m in the presence of a Brahmsian soul mate. This is not an oxymoronic statement. Schoenberg thought Brahms, his musically antiquarian interests aside, the most progressive of 19th-century composers, sidelining Wagner in the process.
This recording provides a fine snapshot of Ezra Laderman’s highly distilled art. The two wind-players are not merely beyond reproach, but are eloquent advocates.
The sound is excellent, and I hope that the less-than-perfect string intonation in the Clarinet Concerto will be forgiven on the grounds that it was a live performance.
FANFARE: William Zagorski
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Clarinet and Strings by Ezra Laderman
David Shifrin (Clarinet)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1994; USA
Celestial Bodies by Ezra Laderman
Ransom Wilson (Flute)
Cassatt String Quartet
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1972; New York, USA
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