April 5, 2019

  • A Cadre of Contemporary Concertos


    Beneath The Tide: A Collection of Concertos
    Bruno Philipp, clarinet.  Mojca Ramuscak, Goran Koncar, violin.
    Pedro Ribeiro Rodrigues, guitar. Charlene Farrugia, piano.
    Croatian Chamber Orchestra/Miran Vaupotic
    Navona Records 6186
    Total Time:  74:16
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    A variety of modern concertos greets the listener in this new release featuring the Croatian Chamber Orchestra.  Works for clarinet, violin, guitar, and piano explore a variety of musical voices in this music for soloist and orchestra.

    Michael Cunningham’s Clarinet Concerto, Op. 186 appeared in a collection of the composer’s orchestral music last year.  The performance by Bruno Philipp is a committed one for this rather dark work.  The first movement opens with a burst of nervous energy that then shifts into a rather virtuosic display by the soloist against the dark textures of the orchestra.  Hindemith feels very much in the background of this work as well with Cunningham’s tendency to use a similar harmonic approach that supports his long thematic ideas that build and build like extensions of a Baroque motif stretched to the breaking point.  The central movement, “Lithe”, moves us into a suave moment of relaxation in tempo but the undercurrent of the music still maintains a sort of sinister quality.  Hints at the musical motives of the first movement flit into the texture adding a sort of twittering unease.  “Charivari” means essentially a “bunch of noise” often in folk mock parades intended to either celebrate a marriage or make fun of an unpopular person which informs the final movement.  The style here certainly suggests such an intent with the fast-paced four-note motif that opens the work (an almost Prokofievian approach) with the serenade qualities reflected in the lyrical second idea.  The first movement motif returns as the piece moves towards a gradual piled-up harmony, last statement by clarinet and final cadence.

    There are two works for violin and orchestra.  The first is Rain Worthington’s In Passages.  This ten-minute emotional work has the soloist emerge from the string texture with poignant modern lyric lines.  The soloist and orchestra have some interplay here as the primary idea works across the strings.  The latter provide as sort of sounding board to the soloist in this piece.  Violinist Mojca Ramuscak finds just the right tone and balance for this intriguing work.  Bruce Reiprich’s brief Lullaby (2002/2018) was written to celebrate the birth of a friend’s son.  It is a lush and romantic work beautifully performed here by Goran Koncar in what would make for a really gorgeous encore number.

    Ssu-Yu Huang is a Taiwanese composer who has received numerous commissions for guitar.  Her first concerto for the instrument is a single-movement affair.  The structure is rather fascinating though.  There is an opening guitar idea that move us into a folkish idea inspired by an actual Hengchun folksong (“Nostalgia”).  Using a modified rondo structure, this idea is placed alongside more astringent modern and atonal works.  The style of the music has a rather cinematic quality (aided by a fairly dry recording) to it as if we are experiencing a suite of music from a dramatic film with an Asian setting.  It is interesting to hear how the guitar line itself morphs in and out of these ethnic inflections.  The piece features a committed and excellent performance by Pedro Ribeiro Rodrigues.

    The album concludes with a piano concerto that was one of composer’s Beth Mehocic’s earliest compositions.  This is a more traditional work which was not quite supported when she first began her academic studies in the mid-1970s.  Fortunately, the concert world has realized that accessible new music is vital to their survival as well and she revisited the piece for a more recent performance.  For the more recent performances and subsequent recording she has made a few tweaks to the orchestration.  Having had previous work recorded for PARMA, this became a more viable recorded possibility and has led to the present recording.  The opening movement has a blend of Copland-esque open harmonies in the orchestra with a more romantic piano style laid against this style.  A more reflective idea opens the central slow movement that explores a repeated motif.  This builds towards the third movement rondo which is transitioned into by percussion and somewhat martial idea which will run through this final movement.  There are parts of this work that feel like a continuation of the mid-century symphonists like Paul Creston.  Overall, the piece has a nice dramatic flow with an accessible style.  The piano gets to have a few pyrotechnics along the way, but stays balanced well with the orchestral writing and it gets a little cadenza as well.  The sound here is a bit forward for the piano which leaves the orchestra seeming a lot drier and further recessed in the sound picture.

    The music here features a great variety of approaches that introduce listeners to these contemporary composers.  By choosing a variety of solo combinations, the album widens its appeal with a little something for every taste.  What is more fascinating is that each of these pieces are equally captivating and receive an excellent set of performances well supported by the Croatian orchestra.