Classical CD Reviews

‘Gulfstream’ = enhakē and guests plays works of LIBBY LARSEN, PETER SCHICKELE, AARON COPLAND & PETER LIEUWEN – Naxos

Very good additions to an appealing combination and American originals!

Published on January 31, 2012

‘Gulfstream’ = enhakē and guests plays works of LIBBY LARSEN, PETER SCHICKELE, AARON COPLAND & PETER LIEUWEN – Naxos

‘Gulfstream’ = LIBBY LARSEN: Rodeo Queen of Heaven; PETER LIEUWEN: Gulfstream; PETER SCHICKELE: Quartet for clarinet, violin, cello & piano; AARON COPLAND: Sextet for clarinet, piano, & string quartet – enhakē with Corinne Stillwell, violin & Pamela Ryan, viola – Naxos 8.559692, 55:08 ****:

The bright young ensemble, enhakē, represents an instrumental combination that I have always found appealing and, for which, there are some great pieces of music out there; most famously the massive Quatuor pour le fin du temps by Messiaen. Wonkak Kim, clarinetist, M. Brent Williams, violinist, Jayoung Kim, cellist and Eun-Hee Park, pianist produce some great, tight ensemble sounds are all gifted musicians.

This collection of four fun, perky and totally appealing works by American composers showcases their talents as well as the possibilities of this instrumentation quite well and is well worth your attention!

To begin with the “big dog” on the program; most people have at least heard of the Copland Sextet. Written in 1937, Copland took main themes and – essentially – the whole score to his Second Symphony, “A Short Symphony”, and rescored it for clarinet, piano and string quartet. According to the historical word of the time, the Short Symphony presented too many atypical rhythmic demands for the conventional American symphony orchestra. Premiered in its original guise by Carlos Chavez with the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional in 1933, the work was later rehearsed and canceled by both Stokowski and, later, Koussevitsky. What is probable is that the Latin rhythms presented a challenge to style for people reared on Beethoven. The Sextet has become all the more played and loved for its upbeat personality that swings, bounces and gyrates through repeated patterns laced with lyrical melodies so typical of Copland. enhakē is joined by violinist Corinne Stillwell and violist Pamela Ryan to give us one of the better performances of this piece I have heard!

Rodeo Queen of Heaven by Minnesota native Libby Larsen derives its weirdly cryptic title from a statue (a wooden santo) in the Denver Art Museum, “Rodeo Reina del Cielo” by Mexican artist Artur Lopez. In the painting, a Madonna and Child figure is garbed in western gear with the Blessed Mother strapped with a six-shooter and the baby Jesus sporting chaps and a cowboy hat. Larsen cleverly takes what was Lopez’s intent – to comment sarcastically on the state of religion in the Southwest – and transforms it into sound. This very interesting work juxtaposes very medieval, chant-like lines with some bouyant jazzy upbeat figures. This is a terrific work to listen to, with or without knowing anything about the symbology.

Most people know Peter Schickele as the humorist “P.D.Q. Bach”. That unto itself is worth a whole other essay, but Schickele’s first training was in classical serious performance and composition. The Quartet for clarinet, violin, cello and piano was written in 1982 after sketches begun nearly ten years earlier. This very compelling four-movement work is characterized by the use of small intervallic materials in an almost jazzy context. Schickele also has a flair for poignant melody too, though, and the third movement “slow, elegiac” is a highlight and the closing “quite fast, dancing” is just that. Naxos’ booklet annotator Elisa Weber points out a feeling that is similar to drunken pirates and, I must say, it is!kj This is a very entertaining work, indeed!

Peter Lieuwen is much less known to me than the other composers represented here. Born in the Netherlands but raised in New Mexico, Lieuwen’s style is truly eclectic and draws upon everything from minimalism to impressionism to – even – touches of Messiaen. Gulfstream is titled in representation of the flow and effects of the warm, coastal currents that annually traverse their path from the Gulf of Mexico to northwestern Europe. Written in 2007 to honor the anniversary of Messiaen’s great work, this is a wonderful single movement piece that flows, much as the waters it depicts, through tonalities and moods. The pulse is frequently carried by the piano and the overall effect is actually quite soothing.

I love this album! enhakē is a brilliant ensemble and this is a great chamber collection. There is also a connection, perhaps intentional, to the American southwest; whether it is the symbolism of the Larsen, the “origin” of the Lieuwen, the “feel” of parts of the Schickele or the intent of the Copland. This is a well- structured and terrifically played program. This ought to appeal to any lover of modern – but accessible – chamber music or any performer looking to get some vibrant new programming ideas (like I now have!)

—Daniel Coombs




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