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“Traceur – American Music for Clarinet and Piano” = Works of ROBERT BEASER, JOSEPH SCHWANTNER, LUKAS FOSS, MARTI EPSTEIN, DEREK BERMEL & DAVID GOMPPER – Michael Norsworthy, clar. – New Focus

An outstanding set of modern works played and recorded flawlessly.

“Traceur – American Music for Clarinet and Piano” = ROBERT BEASER: Souvenirs; JOSEPH SCHWANTNER: Black Anemones; LUKAS FOSS: Three American Pieces; MARTI EPSTEIN: Nebraska Impromptu; DEREK BERMEL: SchiZm; DAVID GOMPPER: Traceur – Michael Norsworthy, clarinet/David Gompper, p. – New Focus Recordings FCR172, 68:47 [Distr. by Naxos] (8/12/16) *****:

Michael Norsworthy is one of the country’s great clarinetists with a real feel for modern music and jazz-inflected works and with a tone quality and style that reminds me a bit of that of one of his main teachers, Richard Stoltzman.  Norsworthy is also a professor of clarinet at Berklee College in Boston and has done a lot of work pioneering new works for clarinet. His accompanist in this very fine set is David Gompper, who is also a composer and pianist who has also done a lot with modern music. 

The opening work is also my favorite on this recording. Robert Beaser’s Souvenirs was originally written for piccolo and piano and are here presented in the composer’s transcription for clarinet and piano. They are a charming and very effective set of works that reflect destinations and people the composer has experienced and have a very nice, accessible somewhat jazz feel to them. This is a really nice piece that fits well on nearly any type of clarinet recital. [Not to be confused with the Souvenirs of Barber…Ed.]

Joseph Schwantner’s Black Anemones (1980) was originally one of a set of songs for soprano and orchestra; Four Poems of Agueda Pizarro, written for soprano Lucy Shelton and premiered by Leonard Slatkin. While I prefer the original, I cannot fault the use of just this one particularly beautiful melody which holds up as just that. 

Three American Pieces by Lukas Foss (1922-2009) is the oldest work here and which adds an interesting “Bernstein-esque” feel to the set. Kudos to Michael Norsworthy for sort of resurrecting this seldom played and very worthwhile suite. Foss was a composer-conductor in the Bernstein mold, being the music director in Milwaukee for a bit (among others) and his music is often finer and more worth exploring than has been the case. I like his Time Pieces for orchestra which I heard many years ago. Marti Epstein is also a professor at Berklee whose music often reflects her roots in the midwest. Nebraska Impromptu is a brief and somewhat unassuming but lovely work that makes me want to explore more.
 
Derek Bermel is a composer/clarinetist himself whose music is often playfully technical. SchiZm, played here, was originally written for oboe and piano. Bermel acknowledges some of the difficult extended techniques that underlie the form of this two-movement piece. The work itself is a fascinating if somewhat wild ride. 

The title track, Traceur, by composer/pianist David Gompper is the longest and most involved of the works here. I like this work as well though it is a bit more abstract than the others. This is, ultimately, a good piece – it just sounds really difficult but Michael Norsworthy is an excellent player!
The performances and selections here are terrific and this show us, again, what a wealth of good quality modern repertory exists, not just for clarinet, which simply has to be sought out and played! Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs

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