Notes and Editorial Reviews
RECITAL IN THE WEST
Carlos Piçarra Alves (cl); Caio Pagano (pn)
SOUNDSET 1030 (51:13)
4 Pieces for Clarinet and Piano.
Clarinet Sonata No. 1
MUSIC FOR CHILDREN
Caio Pagano (pn)
SOUNDSET 1031 (63:06)
Recital in the West
sports an album cover similar to those that adorn any number of recordings of Grofé’s
Grand Canyon Suite
, but what awaits inside is something else entirely. By what fluke, I had to wonder, did I receive two other clarinet recitals for review in this same issue, one with clarinetist Waldemar ?arów playing Debussy’s
the other with clarinetist Antonio Tinelli playing the Brahms sonata, both of which works happen to be on this CD? ’Tis a mystery.
Portuguese-born Carlos Piçarra Alves has a lengthy résumé that you can read in full by Googling his name and clicking on the button to translate his bio from Portuguese into English. The short version is that he is artistic director of Portugal’s Festival International Music Hall of Brandão, he plays first clarinet in the Oporto National Orchestra, is chairman of the clarniet department at the Escola Superior de Música e Artes Aplicadas de Castelo Branco, and in 2009 and 2010 was invited to perform and teach master classes at Arizona State University, which is where the
Recital in the West
and the Grand Canyon theme come in, for ASU’s school of music is where this program was recorded. For EMI, so sayeth the artist’s bio, he has recorded Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, but with whom I don’t know because I haven’t been able to find the CD listed anywhere. I suspect it may be a limited release available only in Japan or possibly Portugal.
Brazilian pianist Caio Pagano, on the other hand, claims a discography of at least six CDs listed at ArkivMusic, two of which containing works by Guarnieri and Villa-Lobos have been reviewed by
James Miller and William Zagorski in 23: 6 and 24:2, respectively. The disc Zagorski reviewed, by the way, includes Villa-Lobos’s
Guia prático para piano,
which Pagano plays on the second of the two headnoted CDs. Since 1986 he has been professor of piano at Arizona State University. He has performed worldwide with major orchestras, toured with Pierre Fournier, Janos Starker, and Szymon Goldberg, and joined in concert with the St. Petersburg Quartet, Maria João Pires, Gerard Caussé, and the Jacques Thibaud Trio. At ASU, he created the Brazilian Festival in 2000, and with Pires, the Center for Studies of the Arts in Portugal.
As noted in my review of Waldemar ?arów’s CD, Debussy wrote his
for clarinet in fulfillment of his first official duty upon being appointed by Fauré to the Paris Conservatory’s board of directors in 1909. The piece was to be used for the following year’s clarinet competition. It might have been a conflict of interest, but Debussy nonetheless sat on the jury judging the 11 candidates. A year later, he orchestrated the piece.
Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata, completed in 1962, turned out to be one of the last pieces the composer would write. Not unlike Saint-Saëns, who in the year of his death composed a triptych of wind sonatas for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon, Poulenc planned a quartet of wind sonatas for flute (previously written in 1956), clarinet, oboe, and bassoon, but the bassoon sonata was never begun. The clarinet work was commissioned by Benny Goodman, who intended to premiere it with the composer at the piano, but Poulenc passed before the piece was published. The premiere took place in Carnegie Hall with Goodman and Leonard Bernstein at the piano. Not-easily-pleased
New York Times
critic Harold Schonberg, in an unusually gracious mood, allowed that the work showed “remarkable finish, style, and refinement,” and went on to describe the slow movement as “one of those melting, long-phrased and unabashed sentimental affairs that nobody but Poulenc could carry off.” The whole sonata is actually quite beautiful. Poulenc turns his Les Six hat inside-out to expose the serious, melancholic lining that frequently hid beneath his beanie with the propeller on top. That childlike silliness and mischievousness comes out in the last movement, which Schonberg dissed, declaring that “Poulenc’s inspiration seems to have run out.”
Another famous Schoenberg, Arnold by name, expressed his own displeasure in no uncertain terms at his student Alban Berg’s experiment in Webern’s art of the miniature, the Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, op. 5. According to musicologist Brian Archibald, Schoenberg delivered some “strong criticism of Berg’s recent work, and possibly even of his personality,” severely tongue-lashing his traumatized student in an attempt to dissuade him from composing songs and small-scale works and to direct himself instead toward extended instrumental composition. After that verbal spanking, Berg never wrote another miniature. The Four Pieces are brief—a total of only 63 measures—but complex, and really not Webernesque. Berg’s gestures are more romantic and not as angular, detached, or pointillistic. There’s a real lyrical element, for example, in the second of the pieces, marked
Closing the program is Brahms’s F-Minor Clarinet Sonata, one of two he wrote for the instrument in 1894. The work is so well known and has received so many recordings, there’s really nothing new to be said of it. The performances here by Alves and Pagano are beautifully mellow and mature, rather different from the Tinelli and Mazzoccante readings reviewed elsewhere. This is not to say that Alves and Pagano do not rise to Brahms’s moments of passion and outbursts of agitation. They do, but with the understanding that these are the emotions of a man who has come to terms with the stirrings of his heart and who knows the measure of his soul. Not just the Brahms, but the Poulenc, Debussy, and Berg pieces are all superbly played. Alves’s tone is rich and woody, but also sufficiently nuanced to adapt itself to the different styles and technical demands of each of these works. Pagano proves a sensitive partner throughout.
Moving on to the second disc, titled
Music for Children
, I mentioned above that it contains the same
pieces by Villa-Lobos performed by Caio Pagano that was reviewed by Zagorski on a Glissando CD back in 2000. I haven’t heard that CD, but here’s what I know: Villa-Lobos compiled 137 traditional Brazilian songs into an anthology titled
(Practical Guide), which later served as the basis for 11 volumes or albums of piano miniatures under the same title. The current Soundset recording reproduces the first six volumes of five pieces each that appeared on the Glissando disc; but curiously, this new release provides every production credit and detail but one, the date of recording. My suspicion that this was a recycling of the original Glissando disc was partially confirmed by Pagano in an e-mail exchange I had with him, but he also offered some clarifying details that prospective buyers would be interested to know.
According to Pagano, the original recording did in fact serve as the basis for the Soundset release, but some portions were retouched and recorded anew. The second piece on the disc, for example, now uses Villa-Lobos’s own later re-harmonization, which is remarkably different from the composer’s earlier harmonization Pagano played on the Glissando disc. This is just one of 23 differences the pianist cites. Through the magic of digital editing, some changes did not involve rerecording entire pieces, but only portions—“a measure here, a note there,” as Pagano put it. Yet another change involves the order of presentation. On the earlier Glissando CD, the order of volumes was 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 2. On the new Soundset disc it is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. The rerecording took place in September 2004. So this resolves the mystery of provenance. The Villa-Lobos combines much of the original recording commingled with new retakes. I’m grateful to Pagano for the explanation, but I wish this had been made clear in the notes to the CD, which read like nothing but a press release cheaply printed on the inside of a cardboard flap.
Needless to say, new or recycled has no bearing on Pagano’s playing. I have no other recordings of the Villa-Lobos pieces for comparison, but to my ear Pagano realizes each of these miniatures with keen instinct for their native Brazilian dance rhythms and harmonic piquancy. As Zagorski explained, these pieces are not directly comparable to Bartók’s
or the slightly later
which were designed to teach kids the piano not only in a graduated way through increasingly difficult exercises but in a way that would motivate them to respond spontaneously to the joy of “discovering new, harmonically exciting, and musically compelling pieces.” Zagorski continues, “The
though largely containing relatively easy pieces, is far removed from entry-level piano literature, and requires a pianist of considerable technique and interpretive depth to tease out its often haunting melos. Brazilian pianist Caio Pagano provides a surfeit of both.” I would concur. It is Pagano’s teasing out of the haunting melos that I was describing when I referred to his keen instinct for the native Brazilian dance rhythms and harmonic piquancy of these pieces.
children (or for learners); it’s
children—13 vignettes for adults in which the composer recalls and reminisces about childhood. It requires a pianist with both solid technique and guileless art to make these pieces sound artless, as they should, and that’s exactly what Pagano manages to do. I was halfway to the closet to retrieve my hobby horse when I realized I didn’t have it anymore, but Pagano brought me consolation for its loss and contentment with memories of my own childhood.
Both of these discs are strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Francis Poulenc
Caio Pagano (Piano),
Carlos Alves (Clarinet)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1962; France
Length: 13 Minutes 26 Secs.
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