Gregory Oakes: Aesthetic Apparatus: Clarinet Chamber Music of Helmut Lachenmann

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Clarinetist Gregory Oakes releases a recording of the complete chamber works for clarinet by eminent German composer Helmut Lachenmann, the first including all three pieces together on the same release. Of particular interest is the virtuosic performance by Oakes and his colleagues of the seldom heard "Trio Fluido" for clarinet, viola, and percussion.

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As much as any living musical figure, German composer Helmut Lachenmann has shaped the landscape of contemporary composition. Through the practice he calls Musique Concrète Instrumentale, Lachenmann has exploded the vocabulary and timbral palette for instrumental performance, and has invited a whole generation of composers to follow in his footsteps to fascinating effect. Of particular importance to Lachenmann’s process is the creation of sounds and timbres for specific pieces — in this way, he avoids the pitfalls of cliché textures and always employs extended techniques in the service of a focused expressive goal.

Gregory Oakes’ recording of his complete chamber music for clarinet is an ideal window into these aspects of Lachenmann’s work. The title of the opening work on the disc, Dal Niente, translates from the Italian as “from nothing” but is also a musical term that calls for the player to begin from silence and emerge ever so subtly. Lachenmann finds myriad ways to explore the musical boundaries of audibility and to extend the sonic palette of the instrument to include variations in breathing sounds and key clicks. In this way, Lachenmann’s interpretation of “from nothing” extends to the creative process of compositional discovery itself, and the blank slate approach to the clarinet as object that he uses to unearth new sounds.

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The rarely heard Trio Fluido for clarinet, viola, and percussion opens more traditionally, with hybrid ensemble timbres resulting from triggered rhythmic interactions between the three instruments. As the piece unfolds, Lachenmann turns his attention to less conventional sounds such as the sound of the wood of a mallet playing a glissando on the bars of the marimba, slap tongues in the clarinet, and wispy harmonics in the viola.

In the final, longest work on this recording, Allegro Sostenuto, Lachenmann sustains large scale structural activity beneath the surface of music that alternates between dense and sparse moments. Similarly to Dal Niente, his title communicates layers of meaning, as the conventional Italian musical meaning of allegro sostenuto, “fast and sustained”, here manifests itself in an energy and pace of pulse that often lies beneath the heard surface. This wonderfully performed recording by Oakes and his colleagues gives a wide view of Lachenmann’s chamber music writing from his thirties into his fifties.

From the austere sonic exploration of the solo work, Dal Niente, the evolution from traditional chamber textures towards unorthodox playing techniques in the rarely heard Trio Fluido, and the expansive structural shapes of Allegro Sostenuto, we hear a composer who is never content with operating within a predetermined compositional status quo. This quality, combined with the refinement he embeds in his experimentation, is what has inspired and left such an indelible mark on the next generation of composers, and what gives his music such communicative power even at its most avant-garde.

Recorded at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa (Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall)

Recording Engineer: Chad Jacobsen

Recording dates: Track 1: March 14, 2016

Track 2: June 2, June 4, August 27, 2015

Track 3: May 9-10, October 16-17, 2016

Gregory Oakes

Gregory Oakes is an energetic and exciting clarinetist and a passionate champion of the music of our time. From his Carnegie Hall debut with members of Ensemble Intercontemporain and Pierre Boulez to his performances as a member of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Oakes has been praised by critics for his “outstanding performance”(New York Times)and “jazzy flourishes” (Denver Post). American Record Guide says “Oakes is the rare player who has both excellent classical training and a mastery of the otherworldly procedures demanded by non-traditional repertoire,” and Fanfare Magazine lauds the “formidable technical armamentarium at his command.” His performance highlights include a concerto with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, a concert at Amsterdam’s venerable new music hall De IJsbreker, a feature performance at Thailand’s MUPA Festival, and a solo feature at Berlin’s prestigious MaerzMusik festival.

Matthew Coley

Matthew Coley is an internationally acclaimed performer and the founding executive director of Heartland Marimba. Primarily active as a marimba soloist and dulcimer artist, he has performed throughout most of the U.S. states, Canada, and several European countries. Matthew has released four albums, is a published composer and a passionate chamber musician, performing year-round with the Heartland Marimba Quartet, sonic inertia, and Clocks in Motion Percussion.

Jonathan Sturm

Jonathan Sturm, viola, fills multiple roles in music as the concertmaster of the Des Moines Symphony, violist in the acclaimed Ames and Amara Piano Quartets, and professor of music history at Iowa State University. He has recorded for the Dorian, Sono Luminus, Albany, Fleur de Son, and New Focus Recordings labels and has performed as a soloist and chamber musician on recital series across the United States and in Russia, South Africa, Cuba, and Albania.

Mei-Hsuan Huang

Mei-Hsuan Huang is Assistant Professor of Piano at Iowa State University. She has been a prize winner in several international piano competitions, including the Wideman Piano Competition and the International Chopin Piano Competition. Huang is on the piano faculty at The Atlantic Music Festival in Maine and the Caroga Lake Music Festival in New York during the summer. She has been a Steinway & Sons Artist since 2014.

George Work

George Work is the cellist of the Amara (formerly Ames) Piano Quartet. The Quartet has released fifteen critically-acclaimed CD recordings and appeared in concert throughout the United States and Canada. International appearances include Russia, Austria, France, Taiwan, Mexico, South Africa, and Cuba. Work has appeared as soloist with orchestras in Taiwan and Russia and has recorded the Ibert Concerto for Cello and Winds with the Baton Rouge Symphony Chamber Players.