• George Perle's Music for Solo Instruments


    Perle: Solos & Duos
    Alexi Kenney, violin; Curits Macomber, violin;
    Charles Neidich, clarinet; Jay Campbell, cello;
    Edwin Barker, double bass; Steve Dibner, bassoon;
    Horacio Guiterrez, piano; Leon Fleisher, piano; Richard Goode, piano;
    Conor Hanick, piano; Michael Brown, piano; Shirley Perle, piano;
    Bridge 9546 A/B
    Disc One: Total Time:  58:46
    Disc Two: Total Time:  58:59
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    American composer George Perle (1915-2009) is best known for his exploration of a more accessible 12-tone language focused around sets of pitches that in and of themselves created their own “12-tone tonality”.  This focus more on intervallic relationships allowed for an often more expressive style.  One can hear how this develops throughout Perle’s career in this new collection of a cross-section of works for solo instruments on Bridge Records.

    Most of the recordings here come from the last decade, many around the centenary of Perle’s birth.  Performers here are among the best in interpreting 20th-Century repertoire and here perform pieces often written specifically for them.  The music is a sort of overview of Perle’s approach to writing for solo instruments from the earliest set of clarinet sonatas from 1943 (aptly performed by Charles Neidich; who also performs the 1972 Sonata quasi una fantasia) to the more recent Bassoon Music (2004) written for Steven Beck who is featured here (as well as in the earlier 3 Inventions from 1962).  These are the sole wind pieces on the album.

    Perle wrote several works for solo cello that are performed here by Jay Campbell.  A set of Hebrew Melodies (1945) opens disc two which also includes a 1947 solo cello sonata and the Lyric Piece (1946).  These provide an interesting microcosm of approach for the instrument that can me compared to the composer’s 1985 cello sonata with piano that appears on disc one.  That album opens with solo violin sonata (1953) featuring Alexi Kenney.  This is a quite accessible way to invite listener’s into Perle’s musical approach.   Serial composers also tend to find kindred spirits in the Baroque and its forms and one can here this in the aforementioned bassoon inventions as well as in the “Sarabande” from the Solo Partita (1965).  A Monody II (1962) features Edward Barker in a work that allows us to compare the timbre and approaches to the double bass and then hear an equally brief work for solo bassoon thereafter.

    Spread throughout the album are three works for solo piano.  Horacio Gutierrez brings us the 9 Bagatelles (1999), which were composed for him.  Here is a collection of different moods that features interesting exploration of rhythm and harmony while also exploring the range of the keyboard.  Also featured are the Musical Offerings (1998) written for Leon Fleisher’s 70th birthday, who performs it here.  The piece is notable as a sort of protest work that was connected to Fleisher’s departure as Music Director at Tanglewood in 1984.  The piece also has a reflective quality that finds Perle connecting some of the stylistic tonal composers of the early 20th Century (Schoenberg, Scriabin, and Debussy) into subtle references in the writing.  The set closes with Richard Goode’s performance of a work also written for him, Ballade (1981).  In keeping with a trend that was appearing in contemporary music in this period, Perle also shifts away from the more Baroque models and instead flirts with Romanticism with a variety of lush harmonies and a sort of emotional rollerscape ending in a whisper.

    While one might prefer to hear the chronological progression of Perle’s music, the set does a good job of balancing the different solo timbres which allows for some aural comparison across the spectrum of Perle’s development.  The music itself is quite accessible and that is another of the hallmark’s of Perle’s musical language that, as intricately designed as it is, it communicates well.  As a sort of overview of his chamber music, the current collection is an excellent way to enter in to the composer’s sound world with excellent performances that are captured in a fine acoustic.  Many of these recordings come from a wide swath of locations and times but they have been balanced well to provide a smooth transition from one to the other.  Those who come across this release will likely already know what is in store, but there is a great opportunity to discover one of the unique voices of the 20th Century.

  • Farming Chamber Music for Bassoon


    Judith Farmer Plays Favorites
    Judith Farmer, bassoon.
    Patricia Mabee, harpsichord. Andrew Shulman, cello.
    Susan Greenberg, flute; Vicky Ray, piano; Wenzel Fuchs, clarinet.
    VSIP Records 0001
    Total Time:  33:58
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Bassoonist Judith Farmer’s new album brings together four diverse works exploring different musical aesthetics.  She currently performs with the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony, and Long Beach Symphony as well as freelancing for film and studio work.  She has appeared in a number of music festivals both in the states and in Europe.  Currently she teaches at the University of Southern California.  Her current release shows off her skills quite well in an enjoyable recital.

    The program opens with a work by Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758).  Fasch was a well-respected composer who began his career as a choirboy in Leipzig and studied with Christoph Graupner in Darmstadt before finding his way to Prague.  There he would be Kapellmeister and court composer to Count Morzin.  He lost out to none other than J.S. Bach for the Thomaskantor position in 1722 after withdrawing from consideration.  Fasch’s music often shows a fine understanding of instruments and this is certainly the case for the Sonata in C which is among several early works for the bassoon that explore the different registers of the instrument in a way that moves it out of its continuo role.  Contemporaneous with the virtuoso Vivaldi concerti, it is likely Fasch may have found inspiration from his Italian models.  It is interesting though that the work is more like a sonata di chiesa in its slow-fast-slow-fast movement structure.  Farmer’s performance is excellent here with excellent articulation and shaping of the phrases.  It is also a good introduction to enjoy the timbre and richness of the instrument.

    The Fasch turns out to be the gentle entry into the remainder of the album which focuses on contemporary music.  First is a delightful Duo for Flute and Bassoon (1992)by Gernot Wolfgang.  Wolfgang’s style is to combine elements of jazz with polymodal harmonies and these are used as a unifying factor in this work.  The music is mostly tonal and provides a brilliant counterpoint to the Baroque work with its syncopated rhythmic ideas and interplay between the two instruments.  An important repertoire work, Roger Boutry’s Interferences I (1972) provides listeners with an opportunity to hear the progressive harmony of the 20th Century with its nods to French Impressionists.  There are some fascinating rhythmic ideas here that are coupled with quite expressive writing.  This work allows Farmer to showcase her technical facility and virtuoso performance abilities quite well.

    The album ends with a recording made in 1990 with Wenzel Fuchs (when both he and Farmer were members of the Vienna RSO).  Poulenc’s work always shows a bit of wit within the modernist harmonic writing.  This is certainly the case here in the Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon (1922) which is equally populated with humorous musical interactions and joy that exploit the characters of the two instruments.  It too is excellently performed.

    The collection of chamber music here showcases Judith Farmer’s abilities both technically and interpretively.  But it also shows deft programming as aspects of each of these works have connections that make them fine partners.  The Fasch and Boutry explore technique and lyricism within their own musical languages.  The Wolfgang and Boutry provide contemporary explorations of harmony and interesting rhythmic ideas that challenge the technique of the performers.  And, the Poulenc and Boutry have their roots in Impressionist and 1920s modernism.  This makes the album flow quite well over its brief playing time.  Certainly worth tracking down for bassoonists and those interested in fine chamber music performance.