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Close To Home: Music Of American Composers / Rowlett, Rodgers

Bernstein / New York Counterpoint / Rowlett
Release Date: 12/11/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1385   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Leonard BernsteinJeanne SingerEric MandatValerie Coleman,   ... 
Performer:  Michael RowlettStacy Rodgers
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CLOSE TO HOME: MUSIC OF AMERICAN COMPOSERS Michael Rowlett (cl); Stacy Rodgers (pn) ALBANY 1385 (64:41)

BERNSTEIN Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. SINGER Nocturne. MANDAT Rrowzer! COLEMAN Sonatine. COPLAND Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Read more REICH New York Counterpoint

Michael Rowlett, Assistant Professor of Clarinet at the University of Mississippi, is one heck of a player. From the very first piece, one is struck by the extraordinary richness of his tone, particularly in the lower range where many old-school clarinetists, however facile (think Reginald Kell), normally tend to thin out. But not Rowlett. He has the kind of deep, “woody” tone one normally associates with some of the best old-school jazz clarinetists like Omer Simeon (there’s a name many readers may not know), Barney Bigard, or Artie Shaw. Moreover, this CD is exceptionally well recorded, so much so that if you were in the next room and didn’t know better, you’d swear that Rowlett was actually in that room playing.

Rowlett explains that his concept for this album stemmed from Valerie Coleman’s Sonatine for clarinetist Mariam Adams, which he wanted to perform. He then began exploring similar works by other American composers, and was delighted to find the other pieces presented here. As he describes it in the notes, Rowlett found common ideas among the various composers, such as “the development of simple, repeated melodic cells,” probably most evident in the music of Steve Reich. Jeanne Singer’s Nocturne, the composer says, was influenced by practice pieces, particularly a mix of Brahms’s clarinet sonatas and Chopin nocturnes. It’s an almost nostalgic piece, yet sudden changes of dynamics and mood keep it from becoming somnambulant. Near the end, an a cappella clarinet passage dips down into Rowlett’s singularly lovely lower range to great effect. Eric Mandat says his Rrowzer! was inspired by an old dog lying on the side of a road, barking at passersby. The entire piece is played by solo clarinet, beginning with a repeated rhythmic motif that alternates Ds in the low range with a serrated melody higher up; then the soloist is called on to play a jazzy passage that begins to simulate the barking of a dog, including some “chords” combining tones from two keys simultaneously. Whines and squawks, even a wider vibrato, all contribute to the tone picture of the barking dog. My lone complaint about this piece is that it went on too long. How much barking dog fun does one need?

Coleman’s Sonatine tries to emulate, the notes say, the way “a jazz musician plays at nighttime.” Here Rowlett encounters a bit of trouble handling the rhythms, which sound a bit too staid to be jazz-like, but his playing is for the most part superb. On the other hand, Copland’s sonata—originally written for violin in 1942 but arranged by the composer for clarinet in the 1980s—is absolutely gorgeous and perfectly phrased and articulated. This is an idiom he is perfectly comfortable with. Note, for instance, how well he performs the Allegro section of the first movement or the Allegretto of the finale, negotiating the music with consummate ease. The deeply felt Lento movement (this sonata was written in memory of a friend killed in World War II) is especially beautiful. Rowland’s moving interpretation of this piece is particularly haunting, as is the typically Coplandesque melody.

Reich’s New York Counterpoint, written for 11 clarinets and bass clarinet, is played here by Rowland multitracking himself. I wasn’t sure of this at first, as he doesn’t state this in the notes, but in the middle of the “Acknowledgements” section, he thanks Evan Ziporyn for “invaluable advice” as he planned to record this piece and Nobuko Igarashi who “helped me immensely as I prepared the bass clarinet parts.” It’s a stunning tour-de-force, and in the course of its 11 minutes one hears the overtones of the instrument(s) combine to make a sort of sonic feedback that contributes to the overall ambience of the music. Overall, an interesting disc and a fine introduction to an outstanding classical clarinetist.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Michael Rowlett (Clarinet), Stacy Rodgers (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941-1942; USA 
Nocturne for Clarinet and Piano by Jeanne Singer
Performer:  Michael Rowlett (Clarinet), Stacy Rodgers (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1975; USA 
Rrowzer! by Eric Mandat
Performer:  Michael Rowlett (Clarinet), Stacy Rodgers (Piano)
Sonatine for Clarinet and Piano by Valerie Coleman
Performer:  Michael Rowlett (Clarinet), Stacy Rodgers (Piano)
Sonata for Violin and Piano by Aaron Copland
Performer:  Michael Rowlett (Clarinet), Stacy Rodgers (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1942-1943; USA 
New York Counterpoint by Steve Reich
Performer:  Michael Rowlett (Clarinet), Stacy Rodgers (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; United States 

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