CARL VOLLRATH: “Past Recollections – Music for Clarinet and Piano, Vol. 1” (TrackList follows) – Michael Norsworthy, clar./Yoko Hagino, p. – Navona

by | Mar 18, 2015 | Classical CD Reviews

CARL VOLLRATH: “Past Recollections – Music for Clarinet and Piano, Vol. 1” (TrackList follows) – Michael Norsworthy, clarinet/Yoko Hagino, piano – Navona NV5988, 61:02 [Distr. by Naxos] (2/10/15) ****:

Carl Vollrath is, frankly, not exactly a household name in modern American composers; not even among clarinetists. But, then, thanks to the very fine Michael Norsworthy for helping to introduce us to Vollrath’s music. Truth be told, Vollrath has written a lot of small clarinet works for music festivals, competitions and some university players who are familiar with his music.

The music itself is uniformly very pleasant; even ‘pretty’ in several places and places a lot of stock in the player’s need to have good technique but – more importantly – a very round, warm tone and sympathetic style. Boston-area Michael Norsworthy is exactly up to the task. He studied with some of the big names in clarinet artistry including Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr and Richard Stolzman. His accompanist, Yoko Hagino, is an equally skilled and sensitive musician.

These works, as I mentioned, are all very pleasant but should not anticipated as anything too tour de force or even ‘modern’  They are – in fact – sort of pleasantly unsophisticated to me. Most of the works here (save the final two) are intended as tribute works to – or, at least, ‘in the style of’ – some of the century’s big name composers. I do, admit, though that I found some of Vollrath’s titles just a bit ‘hokey’ (for my tastes); such as Poulenc’s Plunk, Copland’s Coda, et al.

Aside from the my minor quibble with the titles, these are quite nice, laidback works that would more than suffice as recital openers, encores or even played here as a set; perhaps salon or dinner party music. Some of these pieces leave a very positive impression, in fact. Of the composer tribute works, I especially liked Delius’s Dream and the opening Coco and Igor. I also enjoyed Vollrath’s Piazzola-inspired Past Recollections with its nice blend of Parisian café vibe and Brazilian tinges.

I was definitely impressed with the playing of Michael Norsworthy and Yoko Hagino. Michael’s tone and style seem ideally suited to these works. Interestingly, the booklet cites thanks to clarinetist Timothy Phillips, of Troy University, for whom most; or all, of these pieces was written. I do not know much of Phillips. It might be interesting to hear his renditions sometime.

This disc will appeal mostly to clarinetists looking for some nice, pleasant recital rep that requires great tone and feel and not too much in the technical flourish area. I think most listeners would enjoy these works to listen to, under any circumstances. Thanks, again to Navona for bringing us some music that might otherwise remain largely unknown.

1. Coco and Igor
2. Copland’s Coda
3. Poulenc’s Plunk
4. Prokofiev’s Polka
5. Delius’s Dream
6-9. Past Recollections
10. Companion Piece
11. A Place Some Where

—Daniel Coombs

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