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
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.