Concord Chamber Music Society = CHRIS BRUBECK: Danza del Soul; MICHAEL GANDOLFI: Line Drawings; LUKAS FOSS: Central Park Reel – Wendy Putnam, violin / Thomas Martin, clarinet / Vytas Baksys, piano / Owen Young, cello / Lawrence Wolfe, double bass / Daniel Bauch, percussion – Reference Recordings RR-122, 63:30 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
In the chatty notes to this recording, we learn that the inspiration for the commissioning of Chris Brubeck’s Danza del Soul came on the night the composer’s Convergence was premiered by the Boston Pops. Wendy Putnam, violinist with the Concord Chamber Music Society, had performed a violin concerto during the concert and was unwinding afterward when she struck up a conversation with Brubeck. Additional serendipity was provided by the fact that clarinetist Thomas Martin had been the soloist in Convergence.
Brubeck (son of Dave, in case you were wondering) worked closely with the ensemble, reportedly tailoring the music to the individual personalities of the players and making revisions based on an initial run-through of the piece. One aspect of the work that is only hinted at in a recording is the bit of theatrics that Brubeck springs on his audience in a live performance: the clarinetist starts the piece, playing all alone on stage “before the audience is fully settled in their seats. Interrupted by a series of offstage violin flourishes, the clarinetist (as directed in the music) looks increasingly annoyed as the violin pierces the clarinet reverie several times.” At last, the violinist walks on stage and strikes up a duet with the clarinet, to be joined by cellist and then double bassist, who run out one by one and assert themselves. The percussionist follows and then the pianist, who “leaps in (followed by the out-of-breath page turner) and launches into a cadenza,” after which “a more traditional presentation of the music continues.”
On the basis of Brubeck’s description, I don’t know whether I’d be amused or embarrassed by these shenanigans at a live concert. In a recording, the offstage violin is the only theatrical gesture that intrudes itself, and it remains a puzzlement until you read Brubeck’s notes to the recording. Musically, the entrance of the players one by one gives the piece a nice, improvisatory feel, like a jam session coming together in an especially ad hoc manner. It’s attractive, and it’s fun. Once the sextet really gets going together, they introduce the Spanish flavor suggested by the punning title Danza del Soul. After this lively intro, the second movement, titled “The Loneliness of Secrets,” strikes me as sappy and a bit maudlin. At least Brubeck shows he can write a naturally unfolding set of variations on a theme; it’s the emotional tenor of the movement that leaves me cold.
The Spanish accent returns in the hopped-up finale entitled “Celebraçion de Vida.” This celebration gives everybody a workout, including the percussionist, who switches wildly from shaker to bongos to cymbal to tambourine to snare drum. It all ends in a mad flurry of musical activity which makes me forget and forgive that sappy slow movement. The fusion of jazz and classical music often falls flat, but here the two musical disciplines feed off of and energize each other.
There’s an improvisatory feel to the other pieces on the program as well. Boston composer Michael Gandolfi’s Line Drawings takes its inspiration from the drawings of Picasso. Gandolfi explains, “None of my pieces is tethered to a precise Picasso drawing but they are written in the spirit of the Picasso works: concise, clear, written with a sense of immediacy and sureness of ‘stroke,’ light and ‘airy.’” This translates into five movements that have some of the simplicity and repetitiveness of minimalism and, in the faster pieces, some of the restless, jumpy energy of Gandolfi’s one-time teacher, Oliver Knussen.
The eclectic Lukas Foss shows one of his many musical faces in Central Park Reel, commissioned by the U.S. Information Agency for performance abroad by “winners of the 1986/87 Artistic Ambassador music competition.” As the title wittily implies, it’s a sophisticated take on the country dance known as a reel. The piece starts with violin pizzicatos and strummed piano strings à la Henry Cowell before the players light into the increasingly frenzied and dissonant reel. Violinist Wendy Putnam shows she’s as comfortable with bluegrass fiddling as she is with jazz riffs. Pianist Vytas Baksys is with her all the way, bounding up and down the keyboard like the proverbial kitten on the keys.
All of the Concord Chamber Music Society players seem to be having a great time with these lively, intelligent pieces, and as a result, I had a lot of fun listening. The wonderfully realistic sound from Reference Recordings makes for smooth listening too. How I wish Reference Recordings had laid this one down in SACD! [But they are more into the unusual hi-res two-channel format of 176.4K…Ed.]
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich