Notes and Editorial Reviews
Jennifer Showalter (cl); Joel Clifft (pn)
jennifershowalter.com CD 1001 (56:49)
3 Pieces for clarinet solo.
Clarinet Sonata No. 2.
da Concerto on Verdi’s “La Traviata”
The clarinet is an unforgivingly treacherous instrument. In the wrong hands and lips it can create sounds matching chalk scraping on a blackboard. In the right hands, it can create sounds the subtlety and supple expressiveness of which inspired both Mozart and Brahms. The first thing that struck me in auditioning this release was Jennifer Showalter’s sheer beauty of tone. The second was the ease with which she could modulate its colors to the demands of the music. With the contrasting but satisfying sounds of the likes of Stanley Drucker, Gervase de Peyer, Karl Leister, David Shifrin, Emma Johnson, Richard Stoltzman, and Harold Wright ringing in my inner ears, I can say without hesitation that the young Jennifer Showalter belongs in this august company. Singers and all instrumental practitioners share one thing in common—the very sound that they produce, bereft of their interpretative instincts, goes a long way toward defining their appeal, or lack thereof. Some years ago, while discussing the cellist Yuli Turovsky in these pages, I stated that were he playing only scales and arpeggios, the result would be musically arresting. Again, Showalter’s sound alone has more than a dollop of this kind of magic.
Her choice of repertoire on this, her first CD, is telling—a mix of the familiar and the obscure; the acerbically minimalist and the lushly Romantic. Of the comparatively little-known, she offers Malcolm Arnold’s 1951 Sonatina, op. 29. Arnold is justly renowned for his orchestral music; I found this alternately piquant and lyrically haunting foray into chamber music, composed with clarinetist Frederick Thurston in mind, utterly disarming. Stravinsky’s spiky and challenging Three Pieces for clarinet solo, composed in 1919 for Swiss clarinetist Werner Reinhart, presents further challenges for any clarinetist. It breathes the same air as
A Soldier’s Tale
, but with its chamber ensemble boiled down to a single one-line instrumental voice. Here Showalter is verily working without a net, but is fearlessly up to the task. Of Debussy’s familiar
for clarinet and piano, the best praise I can bestow onto Showalter and her piano collaborator, Joel Clifft, is that they sound quintessentially French. This is, indeed, a sweet and beguilingly colorful performance of the piece.
Showalter/Clifft’s performance of Brahms’s op. 120/2 sonata is one of the most ruminative and subtly expressive performances of this warhorse to come my way. The op. 120 sonatas are, to me (if you will excuse my chronological license here), Brahms’s parallel to Richard Strauss’s
Four Last Songs
. How the young Showalter found such insights into this profoundly autumnal work—music so full of nostalgia, of Brahms’s palpable sense of impending death, and of his bittersweet resignation over it all—can only be chalked up to the miracle of the art of music, and to Showalter’s uncanny sensitivity to what its mere notes on paper can convey.
The final piece, Donato Lovreglio’s (1841–1907)
Fantasia da Concerto,
based on motives from Verdi’s
should, by rights, be a mere piece of musical fluff offered up at the end of a recital as a sort of musical dessert. It is all that here, but once again, Showalter, in her realization of its moments of touching lyricism, offers so much more.
Throughout this release, her partner, Joel Clifft, is hand in glove with her. Here Clifft, who has made an impressive career as an accompanist, conjures up the ghost of Gerald Moore.
The sound is excellent, easily conveying both Showalter’s and Clifft’s timbral subtleties. My 800-horsepower system smiled many times in the course of playing this disc, as did I.
FANFARE: William Zagorski
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