Classical CD Reviews

Michael Dean, clarinet – “Mysteries” = Works of WILDER, PIAZZOLA, ELLIS, DEBUSSY & Others – Michael Dean, clar. – Clarinet Mike

Very nice performances of works you’ve mostly never heard of.

Published on November 11, 2013

Michael Dean, clarinet – “Mysteries” = Works of WILDER, PIAZZOLA, ELLIS, DEBUSSY & Others – Michael Dean, clar. – Clarinet Mike

Michael Dean, clarinet – “Mysteries” = ANDREA FERRANTE: Filtro poi una luce; ALEC WILDER: Suite for clarinet alone; ASTOR PIAZZOLA: Tango-Etudes; JEFFREY HOOVER: Mysteries; DON ELLIS: Solo for clarinet alone; CLAUDE DEBUSSY: Syrinx; JAMES GRANT: Stuff – Michael Dean, clar. – Clarinet Mike (9/14/13) [Distr. by CD Baby], 37:04 ***:

Clarinetists have a pretty large list of solo, unaccompanied music to play and a growing list of pieces for solo clarinet and prerecorded accompaniment. The very first versions of the latter genre were works from the ‘70s and ‘80s involving extended techniques and synthesized sound accompaniments. Among the best-known works for clarinet alone is the Stravinsky Three Pieces, which, for the serious player, is standard repertoire.

The problem with many of the works out there is, in my experience, one of quality. The clarinet is an instrument capable of tremendous range of emotion and extended tessitura with nearly four distinct timbres to go with it. If works are not written with the variety of colors possible in mind, these solo pieces – without or without prerecorded accompaniment – can sound like little more than pyrotechnic flourish.

Texan Michael Dean is a very gifted player with lovely tone and supple technique. Fortunately, he also has a good ear for works that do hold the interest of both the player and the listener. Certainly most people have heard or at least heard of the Piazzola Tango-Etudes (originally for flute or violin) and the Debussy Syrinx, originally for solo flute. These two lovely gems hold up well with Dean’s talents but I found more interest in the other, considerably less known, works in this collection.

I found the most interesting work, actually, to be the title track by Jeffrey Hoover. His Mysteries is a three-movement work based on Biblical themes; Covenant, Suffering and Dance of Life. These are buoyant and entertaining works and the synthesized accompaniment, which sounds as if it could be done as a piano work, as well, is impressive enough. I felt just as positive about Stuff: Theme with Seven Variations by James Grant. Interestingly, this work was originally part of a larger piece for tuba! The moods vary a great deal and I found this quite a fun work to listen to.

The fairly short Solo by Don Ellis is a transcription by Don Erjavec of what was originally a jazz trumpet solo (Ellis was a well-known jazz musician and arranger). Dean’s own notes to his recording states that some of this performance is improvised and he recorded it in one take, much as a real jazz improv would be.

The Suite by Alec Wilder is fairly traditional in its tone and, this; too was originally written for flute. Wilder did write a very nice Sonata for Clarinet, among other things, that players should be familiar with. Filtro poi una luce (“filtering of the light”) by Andrea Ferrante is a nice little work originally written for flute and, in this case also, the CD accompaniment contributes to the sound in a positive way. This piece didn’t leave as strong an impression as did the others.

This collection offers clarinetists some new discoveries in a category of the repertory that does have its ‘hits and misses.’ Michael Dean is a very fine player who does have a gift for finding some high quality obscurities. This CD, a private release by Dean, may be a bit of a niche release but it hold some attraction for anyone who likes very good clarinet playing and for clarinetists who want to hear some new things.

—Daniel Coombs

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