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Sinfonia Iuventus Vol 1 - Debussy, Strauss, Francaix / Zarow, Chmura

Debussy / Zarow
Release Date: 06/29/2010 
Label:  Cd Accord   Catalog #: 162   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Claude DebussyRichard StraussJean Françaix
Performer:  Waldemar ZarowAlicja Kieruzalska
Conductor:  Gabriel Chmura
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Iuventus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 0 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DEBUSSY Première Rhapsodie. La Mer. STRAUSS Duet-Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon, and Strings. FRANÇAIX Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Strings Waldemar ?arów (cl); Alicja Kieruzalska (bn); Gabriel Chmura, cond; Sinfonia Iuventus ACCORD 162 (60:19)

Let me begin by saying that those of you who still appreciate the visual and Read more tactile pleasures of a beautifully designed LP jacket will surely appreciate the care and cost that have gone into this Polish-produced album. Enclosed in an outer heavy-gauge cardboard slipcase, the booklet is printed on stock almost heavy enough to substitute for paper plates. Notes are printed side-by-side, instead of successively, in Polish and English, with the Polish side of the page on a white background and the English side on a mustard-colored background. Full-page, high-quality color photos of all the artists are included, along with a complete members’ roster of the Sinfonia Iuventus.

Claude Debussy’s first official duty upon being appointed by Fauré to the Paris Conservatory’s board of directors in 1909 was to provide two works for the following year’s clarinet competition. He completed the Première Rhapsodie , originally for clarinet and piano, within a month’s time, and then sat on the jury judging the candidates (there were 11 of them). A year later, he orchestrated the piece. The second competition piece he provided, the Petite pièce , was a work of only 36 bars designed to test the candidates’ sight-reading skills, as they were not allowed to see and practice it ahead of time. (Debussy’s Deuxième Rhapsody is for saxophone.)

La Mer is Debussy’s largest orchestral work. Its instrumentation is sizeable; seldom, however, does Debussy use these forces en masse . Rather, as Paul Henry Lang has noted, the score is “a vibrating, oscillating, glimmering sound complex, caressing the senses” and “shimmering in a thousand colors.” Completed and premiered in 1905, the work heralded a sea change (no pun intended) in orchestral writing. It was not particularly well received in France, but its severest criticism came from this side of the pond, with one Boston critic punning that the piece ought to be titled Mal de Mer (Seasickness). Through it all, Debussy remained unfazed, and though he didn’t live to see how enormously popular La Mer would become, his musical instincts never failed him.

Dating from 1947, the Duet-Concertino for clarinet, bassoon, and strings was Richard Strauss’s last instrumental composition. The piece, in three movements, is, in effect, a chamber concerto featuring two oddly mated solo instruments. Strauss himself jokingly described the piece as a princess (clarinet) dancing with a bear (bassoon). To me, this dance resembles speed-dating or, perhaps better yet, fast-flipping through a Rolodex of the composer’s lifework. It’s all there in little ticklers, from his earliest chamber works to his vast tone poems and his operas; once or twice, there’s even a half-blank dance card that hints at the Four Last Songs yet to come. As with practically everything Strauss wrote, the piece is masterfully and brilliantly crafted.

Jean Françaix’s Theme and Variations for clarinet and string orchestra, which closes the program, subtly and cleverly returns us full circle to Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie at the beginning; for Françaix’s piece, written in 1974, was commissioned by the Paris Conservatory for the same purpose, a pièce de concours for the school’s clarinet department. Keeping its function in mind Françaix composed a piece to challenge the player technically, but one that would engage the listener with a breezy, jazzy, accessible style. As a result, Françaix’s Theme and Variations, like Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie , has retained a favored place in the clarinet repertoire.

Waldemar ?arów, born in 1984 in Rzeszów, Poland, plays one mean clarinet. It takes less than one minute—from 5: 10 to about 5:35—in the Françaix to establish that. At this point, the score requires the player to jump from the lowest to the highest notes on the instrument, and the precision and cleanness with which ?arów accomplishes this is breathtaking. But his playing is about much more than technical acrobatics. His performances in the Debussy and Strauss reveal an artist pure of tone and full of heart. His sensitive partnering with bassoonist Alicja Kieruzalska—in her own right a highly accomplished player who was born in Toronto and took her degree at the Frederic Chopin University of Music in Warsaw—is further confirmation of ?arów’s remarkable talent and musicality.

The Polish Sinfonia Iuventus is a newborn, having been established in 2007 by order of Poland’s minister of culture and national heritage. The ensemble is composed of the most gifted graduates and students of the country’s music academies, with membership restricted to those under 30. In other words, it’s a youth orchestra along the lines of the European Community Youth Orchestra and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. These ensembles have proved their mettle in some of music’s most challenging repertoire, and Sinfonia Iuventus acquits itself quite respectably in Debussy’s La Mer on this disc; but I’m not about to claim that the performance rises to the level of older classic versions by Reiner (Chicago), Munch (Boston), and Karajan (Berlin), or somewhat more recent accounts by Boulez (Cleveland), Dutoit (Montréal), and Rattle (Berlin). While the Sinfonia Iuventus’s young players lack nothing in enthusiasm or skill of execution, in somewhat shorter supply are the tonal sensuousness and unambiguous eroticism that are at the core of this score. Expressed more coolly and clandestinely in the composer’s earlier Afternoon of a Faun , the sexual implications in La Mer’s rising and falling waves are unmistakable; and that’s what is not fully projected in this otherwise well-rehearsed performance with Gabriel Chmura leading his student charges.

For the clarinet works and the fantastic playing of Waldemar ?arów, as well as a beautifully produced and recorded CD, strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Première Rhapsodie for Clarinet and Orchestra by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Waldemar Zarow (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Gabriel Chmura
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Iuventus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911; France 
La mer by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Gabriel Chmura
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Iuventus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903-1905; France 
Venue:  Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Pol 
Length: 24 Minutes 39 Secs. 
Duet-Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon, Strings and Harp, AV 147 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Waldemar Zarow (Clarinet), Alicja Kieruzalska (Bassoon)
Conductor:  Gabriel Chmura
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Iuventus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1947; Germany 
Venue:  Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Pol 
Length: 18 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Strings by Jean Françaix
Performer:  Waldemar Zarow (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Gabriel Chmura
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia Iuventus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1971; France 
Venue:  Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Pol 
Length: 8 Minutes 29 Secs. 

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