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Schicklele: A Year In The Catskills / Wang, Rose, Blair Woodwind Quintet

Schickele / Blair Woodwind Quintet / Wang / Rose
Release Date: 08/30/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559687   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Peter Schickele
Performer:  Jared HauserMelissa RoseLeslie NortonFelix Wang,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Blair Woodwind Quintet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 52 Mins. 

In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Colorful, original, whimsical, and adventuresome, this collection of musical short stories from one of America’s most diverse composers has something to please every ear.

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SCHICKELE A Year in the Catskills. Gardens 1. What Did You Do Today at Jeffrey’s House 2. Dream Dances 3. Diversions Read more class="ARIAL12"> Blair Wind Qnt members; 1,2 Melissa Rose (pn); 3 Felix Wang (vc) NAXOS 8.559687 (52:03)


The Blair Wind Quintet is a faculty ensemble of the Blair School of Music of Vanderbilt University. Though a woodwind player myself, I am not familiar with their work, so this release, the second on which this ensemble appears, is a pleasant introduction to these fine musicians. Their performances here are mostly solo and in smaller groupings, with only the title work, A Year in the Catskills, played by the whole quintet. This last is one of a trio of works for resident ensembles funded by the Blair Commissioning Project. Peter Schickele’s quintet was joined by a piano trio from Susan Botti and a string quartet by György Kurtág; one can but imagine what a wildly incongruent faculty recital that could have made.


Schickele is, of course, best known in his persona of the researcher and exhumer of works by “the youngest and oddest of J. S. Bach’s 20-odd children.” Since 1965, the year of his first public concert, he has created a body of entertaining musical parodies of familiar musical forms for his fictional P. D. Q. Bach. There is another aspect of the composer, though, as many will know. Under his own name, he composes concert works for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, and vocalists, as well as scores for film, theater, and television. This disc presents a nice sampling of pieces for wind instruments, written over a 46-year period. They cross boundaries of genre and style with consummate skill, and are uniformly clever, lightweight, and charming. Even when fleetingly serious, they are never more than melancholy. They are more often humorous. In fact, minus the more obvious burlesquing that goes on in a P. D. Q. Bach pastiche, his serious works sound remarkably akin to his comedic bread and butter. The unexpected instrumental colors are a bit more subdued, the odd cadence more integrated, and the stylistic incongruities less outrageous. What is played for laughs when acting The Professor is quirky and playful in the realm of the serious composer, but the singular identity can never be in question.


Consider the four seasonal portraits of A Year in the Catskills (2009), presented in Baroque canons and a fantasy, and rounded out with a fifth movement called “Fast Driving,” which bebops the listener back to more modern urban surroundings. Or What Did You Do Today at Jeffrey’s House? (1988) for horn and piano, which remembers childhood games (one is relieved to learn, given his compositional credits for O! Calcutta! ) with a piano-stride parade and a boogie-woogie carnival with dancing bears framing a very brief compulsory nap. Finally, there is Dream Dances (1988), a suite for flute, oboe, and cello, which juxtaposes a not very Baroque minuet and sarabande with a jitterbug, a demented French gallop, and a waltz that only needs John Ferrante and some silly lyrics to become one of the Diverse Ayres on Sundrie Notions.


The two remaining earlier works give some idea of where Schickele might have headed if the fictional “minimeister of Wein-am-Rhein” had not been such a huge success. In these we hear a composer still working in academia, creating works that reflect seriously (well, all right, more seriously) on relatively contemporary styles. Gardens (1968) for oboe and piano is an atmospheric triptych with overtones of Messiaen, though this is more obvious in New York Philharmonic oboist Joseph Robinson’s recording on Cala. Diversions (1963) for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon channels neoclassical Stravinsky in portraits of the bath, a game of billiards, and a New York bar. It is all very engaging, and wonderfully presented by musicians and engineers. Naxos has a winner here, and I hope we hear more from the Blair Wind Quintet. Meanwhile, woodwind fanciers are hereby alerted to a must-buy release.


FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames


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It is a good and joyful thing to see a nice collection of Peter Schickele’s concert music. Not that he is unduly famous for his P.D.Q. Bach character, but as a composer of serious music he shines as one of the most original voices of his generation. Schickele has not invented a new wheel, rather he has managed to take traditional musical gestures and season them with his own invention with the skill of a master chef. This collection of chamber music, deftly rendered by members of the faculty of Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, is a showcase of the composer’s unique wit and creativity.

Commissioned by the Blair Quintet, A Year in the Catskills was brand new at the time of this recording. It is a picturesque work; full of the kind of interesting twists of melody that make Schickele’s music so fascinating. He is prone to shifting one or two notes in a tune by a semitone here or a semitone there to make what could sound quite ordinary into something that is unique and quirky.

The brief triptych Gardens, for oboe and piano is a study in colors. One of Schickele’s outstanding features is his ability to say so much in a very short time. I wouldn’t call him a miniaturist, but he can get his point across with little fuss. Such are these elegant little pieces that depict a garden at the three parts of the day. Jared Hauser plays with a sweet unforced tone, and is sensitively accompanied by pianist Melissa Rose.

What Did You Do Today at Jeffrey’s House? is a bit of nostalgia based on memories of the composer’s playtime with a childhood friend. These are whimsical pieces, pulling from a number of styles including a rollicking boogie-woogie ending. Scored for horn and piano, Leslie Norton and Melissa Rose find all the charm of these brief episodes. I can’t say that I was completely in love with the pieces themselves, as they came across to these ears as a bit contrived.

The outstanding work in this recital is the lovely set of Dream Dances. Scored for flute, oboe and cello, Schickele combines the old and the new by creating a suite that is reminiscent of a Baroque partita, but just for fun he throws in the semi-modern by replacing the Courrant with a Jitterbug and the Allemande with a Waltz. It is pretty much genius really, and Jane Kirschner, Jared Hauser and Felix Wang deliver an elegant performance full of wit.

Diversions, scored for oboe, clarinet and bassoon are again whimsical, and depict three specific scenes, a hot bath, a billiard game, and a New York bar. Although I felt that the composer captured his scenes well, I can’t say that I was particularly moved by these little snapshots, in spite of their being very well played.

Peter Schickele is reported to be one of the most performed composers in America, and it is easy to see why. The term accessible gets too much airplay, but his music is almost always captivating, mainly due to his double ability to color within the lines while choosing shades that don’t come from just any box of crayons. A good listen.

Colorful, original, whimsical, and adventuresome, this collection of musical short stories from one of America’s most diverse composers has something to please every ear.


-- Kevin Sutton, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
A Year in the Catskills by Peter Schickele
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Blair Woodwind Quintet
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2009 
2.
Gardens by Peter Schickele
Performer:  Jared Hauser (Oboe), Melissa Rose (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1968 
3.
What Did You Do Today at Jeffey's House by Peter Schickele
Performer:  Leslie Norton (French Horn), Melissa Rose (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988 
4.
Dream Dances by Peter Schickele
Performer:  Jared Hauser (Oboe), Felix Wang (Cello), Jane Kirchner (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988 
5.
Diversions by Peter Schickele
Performer:  Cassandra Lee (Clarinet), Jared Hauser (Oboe), Cynthia Estill (Bassoon)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963 

Sound Samples

A Year in the Catskills: I. Spring: Fantasy
A Year in the Catskills: II. Summer: Imitations
A Year in the Catskills: III. Fall: Variations
A Year in the Catskills: IV. Winter: Lament
A Year in the Catskills: V. Finale: Fast Driving
Gardens: I. Morning
Gardens: II. Noon
Gardens: III. Night
What Did You Do Today at Jeffey's House?: I. First We Had a Parade
What Did You Do Today at Jeffey's House?: II. After Lunch Jeffey's Mom Made Us Take a Nap
What Did You Do Today at Jeffey's House?: III. Then We Did a Carnival with a Haunted House and Dancing Bears
Dream Dances: I. Minuet
Dream Dances: II. Jitterbug
Dream Dances: III. Waltz
Dream Dances: IV. Gallup
Dream Dances: V. Sarabande
Diversions: I. Bath
Diversions: II. Billiards
Diversions: III. Bar

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