The Verdeht Trio “American Images 7” – Works of HUTCHESON, GERSHWIN, WINLER, MADSEN – Crystal

The Verdehr Trio, “American Images 7” = JERE HUTCHESON: Rondo Brillante; Nocturnes of the Inferno; PAMELA MADSEN: Sea Change 2; DAVID WINKLER: Warhol Appassionata; GERSHWIN (arr. Armand Russell): Promenade – The Verdehr Trio (Walter Verdehr, v./Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr, clar./Silvia Roederer, Deborah Moriarty, David Renner, p.) – Crystal Records CD972, 68:05, (2/09/16)****:

A legacy album to conclude a very important series.

In the chamber music realm, the combination of violin, clarinet and piano has been one of my favorites (my clarinet player side coming out) and has a very rich twentieth century repertoire due in no small part to the commissioning legacy and four decades of artistry of Walter and Elsa Verdehr.

It is absolutely amazing the breadth and variety of the more than one hundred works that this husband and wife duo has given us over the years. Their trio has included a few different pianists over the years, including the present Silvia Roederer, performing the Madsen, Winkler and Gershwin works, Deborah Moriarty, featured on Hutcheson’s Nocturnes of the Inferno and David Brenner, on the Rondo Brillante. The combined training, recording resume and teaching positions held of all these amazing musicians is beyond impressive.

This recording, the last in their twenty-two album series, is – in many ways – a legacy album. Jere Hutcheson’s Rondo Brillante as well as his Nocturnes of the Inferno were the two first commissioned works by the Verdehrs, in 1972 and 1976, respectively. Hutcheson, who has taught at Michigan State University for many years, is a very interesting composer. The two works here are both a bit frenetic and employ some high energy motion and creative harmonic flow that does not necessarily follow a ‘system.’ While I found both works quite interesting, I did prefer his Nocturnes of the Inferno (although I chose not to get wrapped up in the story in which the composer purportedly saw apparitions of gargoyles scampering around a cross-shaped piano after a visit to Notre Dame, Paris.) I found that work in particular a bit George Crumb-esque.

I was impressed by the expansive and neo-Romantic Warhol Appassionata by David Winkler. This three movement work has a wonderful flow to it and plenty of good, dramatic melodic riffs that I found just a bit reminiscent of d’Indy. Each movement is inspired by the works of Andy Warhol (at whose gallery the work premiered) as well by the Appassionata Sonata of Beethoven. This is a very fine work. Winkler has served as a composer in residence for a number of festivals, including his present position with the Paris Festival Orchestra.

The Gershwin Promenade is a pleasant, well-known trifle that – in this case – served as the Trio’s encore work from their last public performance in Mexico in 2015. Pamela Madsen’s Sea Change 2 left a very strong impression with me. This six-minute work opens with a recitation of a poem by Genevieve Taggard (done by the pianist it seems) and is dedicated to the composer’s daughter, who was a Gold medal diver in the 2012 Olympics! Madsen’s Sea Change 2 is a thematic follow up to her Sea Change 1 and part of a series of works based on sea imagery and references to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and other “images, texts of sea, sea nymphs and sirens.” Sea Change 2 heard here is an absolutely beautiful and somewhat impressionistic work that makes me immediately want to go seek it out. Madsen has been involved quite a bit over the years with IRCAM and has directed the New Music Ensemble at Cal State Fullerton, where she has taught for many years.

Listeners may find these works of varied interest but I found each of them very interesting, particularly the Madsen and the Winkler. More importantly, the Verdehr Trio leaves us a vitally important body of work for this very rewarding trio combination. I urge any listener to check this recording out but go seek out any of their many premiere recordings for the amazing artistry and variety they contain. The clarinetist in me thanks them for all these amazing contributions to draw from.

—Daniel Coombs

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