AMERICAN MUSIC FOR CLARINET AND PIANO = BERNSTEIN: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano; GERSHWIN: Three Preludes; I Got Rhythm; NOVACEK: Four Rags for Two Jons; D’RIVERA: The Cape Cod Files – Jon Manasse, clarinet/ Jon Nakamatsu, piano – Harmonia mundi

by | Nov 26, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

AMERICAN MUSIC FOR CLARINET AND PIANO = BERNSTEIN: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano; GERSHWIN: Three Preludes; I Got Rhythm; NOVACEK: Four Rags for Two Jons; D’RIVERA: The Cape Cod Files – Jon Manasse, clarinet/ Jon Nakamatsu, piano – Harmonia mundi HMU 907508, 56:08 ****:

The clarinet is the perfect instrument to make the connection between classical music and jazz. Mozart, Brahms, and others demonstrated its beauty and virtuosity and the works on this album demonstrate the energetically fractured sounds that perfectly represent the culture of the current and past century. The works on this disc of American music for clarinet and piano are excellent examples of the fusion of jazz and classical that is one of the many musical styles that have emerged in the last 100 years.

Novacek’s Four Rags for Two Jons (2006) is a four movement 12 minute work by the composer-pianist who is a ragtime specialist. You can hear Scott Joplin’s cross rhythms in the first movement, “Schenectady.”  “Full Stride Ahead” is flat out wacky, with a vocal ‘hot dog.’  Cape Cod Files by the Cuban composer Paquito D’Rivera is a 2009 composition that celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Cape Cod Music Festival where Manasse and Nakamatsu are Co-Directors. The four movements include a gentle boogie-woogie that’s a tribute to the 100th anniversary of Bennie Goodman, a pensive and nostalgic milonga (an dance event featuring the tango) in the style of bandoneon music, and a pastiche of funky American and jittery Mexican blues.

Leonard Bernstein’s first published work was the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1918-20). Its two movements – neo-classical in style – are lyrical, pensive, jazzy – all displaying the ebullient and moving persona that makes him an Amercian icon. It’s a work worthy of the Bernstein name, and the musicians due it full justice. George Gershwin and the clarinet are inextricably entwined in the slow trill and glissando of the opening of his Rhapsody in Blue (1924). Of the Five Preludes written for piano two years later, only three have entered the repertoire – in a multitude of arrangements for many instruments. It’s here that Manasse and Nakamatsu let their hair down and really swing, expressing the lazy blues and rhythmic high jinks that are a Gershwin calling card with wild abandon. The album concludes with James Cohn’s arrangement of ‘I Got Rhythm’ from his musical Girl Crazy. The recording is close, but with just enough reverberation to replicate a larger acoustic space. This is a cleverly programmed disc that’s very well executed.


– Robert Moon

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