FRANCIS E. FAIRMAN, III: ‘Diurnal Thoughts’ = Richard Stoltzman, clarinet & others – Navona Records

by | Nov 9, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

FRANCIS E. FAIRMAN, III: ‘Diurnal Thoughts’ = The Fox, Diurnal Thoughts, New York Taxi, Concerto for Clarinet; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor, cond./Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/ Vit Micka, cond./Richard Stoltzman, clarinet/Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/ Gil Rose, cond.– Navona Records NV5863, 58:07 (Distr. by Naxos) ***:
Francis Fairman is a new name to me. Fairman has been a highly trained amateur bassoonist for a number of years and is also a former student at Curtis Institute. An engineer by profession, Fairman has never stopped writing music, focusing exclusively on orchestral works since the early 1990s, while he was an apprentice under William McKinley (whose music I do know and would say that Fairman was in good hands!)
This first commercial recording of Fairman’s orchestral work reveals a skilled technician and orchestrator, firmly grounded in a very tonal, melodic and somewhat jazzy idiom. These are works that are easy to listen to and, while some may find them not terribly complicated or “sophisticated”,  there is a very attractive, almost film score quality to them.
The opening work, The Fox, illustrates this point quite well. The composer concedes that the music is intended to represent a classic fox and hound chase complete with hunters and the pursued trying to run and hide while the pursuant give chase. This little five-minute-plus work is clever, melodic and picturesque. The Slovak Radio Symphony, who gave the work its first performance, under Kirk Trevor performs at its usual high level.
One gets a similar impression from the even shorter New York Taxi. Without even reading the composer’s notes, you hear a sort of big city feel to it, complete with “horn” type effects and some neat bassoon writing. The syncopated ending phrases seem to channel Gershwin and the effect is very clear and clever.
Diurnal Thoughts is a larger and more “heady” tone poem intended to evoke the feel of scorching sun and brilliant sunsets that Fairman experienced in service on the Philippines during World War II. There is a more complex harmonic vocabulary here and some island-like feel that sounds just a little bit like Ibert. The sensation of strange places, hot sun and brilliant scenery comes across well and the orchestration, including some brooding brass and percussion filigree, is more complex here than in the two shorter works.  The Moravian Philharmonic under Vit Micka does a great job with both New York Taxi and Diurnal Thoughts.
While I found all three of these works pleasant to listen to, I found the star of this recording to be Fairman’s Clarinet Concerto, performed here by the always incredible Richard Stoltzman and the Warsaw Philharmonic under Gil Rose.  This is a nice, full and energy packed concerto. At just under thirty minutes, it opens with a very jazz-tinged rising motive in the clarinet and immediately breaks into a charming series of flips in the solo line. The soaring melody is carried throughout and the second movement has a very nice constantly moving clarinet line that somewhat echoes the nuance of the first movement. The third movement is slow, somewhat bluesy and characterized by some nice “smoky” commentary by the solo clarinet reacted to by the bassoons and some lovely moments in the harp and keyboard percussion. The solo line here sounds almost impressionistic here. (To me, this was another moment in Fairman’s music reminiscent of French music)  The finale begins with a very urban brass accented “big city” sound with some very nice technical turns for the soloist and some repeated pulses that pull the work to a rousing conclusion. Stoltzman is always so good with music that rides the line between typical classical and jazz and this is no exception!
Kudos – again – to Navona and the PARMA group for finding good, somewhat unknown composers and teaming their music up with these European orchestras who seem to be practically “their” orchestras and who have developed a real feel for the newer American sounds.  Francis Fairman’s music fills a niche for a very accessible, very pleasant and uncluttered “American” sound. If you want to hear some new orchestral music that will not tax the theoretician nor bristle the average listener who just wants a pleasant listening experience, I truly believe you will enjoy this – especially the Clarinet Concerto!
—Daniel Coombs