This collection is the most fun I’ve had reviewing in the last month. I was naturally attracted by the idea of an ensemble of clarinets – I always like multiple instrument groupings and there have been a very few all-clarinet ensemble recordings. The focus of the disc is on that time in the early 20th century when the musical scene in Paris was called “années folles” (the crazy years) with all sorts of major cultural changes in the western world. Among the artistic movements there were expressionism, surrealism, dadaism, and cubism. The musical equivalent of the last was “machine music” – epitomized by Satie’s score for Leger’s film Ballet Mecanique and by works such as Mosolov’s Iron Foundry.
This jumping program brings us 27 short tracks (including the multiple movements of works such as Francaix’s Danses exotiques) of some of the unique small works from this period and later which tie in with the mechanical music theme. Some will be amazingly familiar to the ears – for example Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter, Syncopated Clock and Jazz Pizzicato. Others will be heard for the first time, including several by participants in the recording. What gives the instrumentation an extra kick is the presence on some of the tracks of Pierre Charial’s custom-made 156-pipe barrel organ. It has three registers and as the world’s leading exponent of the instrument Charial has performed mechanical music of Haydn and Mozart, as well as lending a perfect dated-sounding mechanical touch to the presentation of these works. A synthesizer just wouldn’t have been nearly as appropriate. One of my favorite French chamber works has been Milhaud’s extroverted Scarmouche – both in its two-piano version and its clarinet and piano iteration. But the clarinet and barrel organ version has instantly made its three movements my absolute choice – the sonic picture is just right for the album’s theme! I wish a photo of the instrument had been included in the note booklet.
– John Sunier