Clarinetist Michael Norsworthy (Boston Conservatory) and pianist and composer David Gompper (U. of Iowa) join forces to release “Traceur,” a survey of premieres and new transcriptions for clarinet that engage with vernacular sources and associations, especially rooted in Americana.
Three American PiecesLukas Foss
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Field of Stars
Clarinetist Michael Norsworthy (Boston Conservatory) and pianist and composer David Gompper (U. of Iowa) join forces to release “Traceur,” a survey of music by American composers that engages with vernacular sources and associations. A mix of premieres and first recordings of new transcriptions for clarinet, Norsworthy and Gompper capture the expansiveness, nostalgia, and nascent optimism of American music with these committed performances.
Though the list of composers on this recording draws heavily from the modernist community, these particular pieces evoke the lineage of Aaron Copland’s Americana work somewhat more than the rough collage style of Charles Ives. Robert Beaser’s Souvenirs, originally written for piccolo and piano in 2001, and later transcribed by the composer for clarinet and piano, is a collection of six loosely related ‘Songs without Words’. Written in Beaser’s ‘folk style’, which he first utilized in his oft performed Mountain Songs for flute and guitar, ‘Cindy Redux’ actually comes directly from that earlier cycle, while ‘Lily Monroe’ is similarly based on an Appalachian tune, recontextualized. The other four movements are wholly original, and sing in deceptively simple, strophic voices. German born Lukas Foss emigrated to the United States at a relatively young age, and his early work Three American Pieces reflects his youthful enthusiasm for his adopted country. Joseph Schwantner’s Black Anemones was originally a movement of a soprano and piano work written for Lucy Shelton, and is heard here in Michael Norsworthy’s transcription for clarinet. Marti Epstein’s Nebraska Impromptu was written at Norsworthy’s request and evokes the composer’s home state landscape. Derek Bermel has championed new clarinet music as a virtuoso performer on the instrument, composer, and curator. His SchiZm, originally for oboe and piano, is eclectic in its stylistic range, with a Middle Eastern flavored opening movement followed by a collage of elements from salsa, klezmer, and tango. David Gompper’s Traceur takes inspiration from a different kind of phenomenon, the art of Parkour, a unique discipline involving fluid, choreographed navigation of the urban landscape. Less expansive and nostalgic than the other repertoire on this disc, Traceur nevertheless captures the optimism so characteristic of American music and, in its references to jazz, points to an alternative well of inspiration for composers.
Recorded at Mechanics Hall, August 11-14, 2015, and November 16, 2015
Produced by David Gompper, Michael Norsworthy, and Robert Beaser (tracks 1-6)
Engineered, edited, and mastered by Patrick Keating
Designed by Eric Gompper and Wen Hui
Michael Norsworthy’s unique voice on the clarinet has made him a sought after soloist and chamber music collaborator and garnered praise from around the globe for performances that explore transcendent virtuosity and extremes of musical expression. As one of the most celebrated champions of the modern repertoire, he has premiered over 150 works in collaboration with a veritable who’s who of composers including Babbitt, Birtwistle, Carter, Ferneyhough, Finnissy, Gompper, Lachenmann, Lindberg, Murail, and Rihm among others in leading venues such as Carnegie Hall, Vienna’s Musikverein, Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall, Lincoln Center, The Casals Festival, and the Aspen Music Festival. His discography can be found on the Albany, BMOP/sound, Cantaloupe, Cirrus, ECM, Gasparo, Mode, Navona, New World, and New Focus labels. He is principal clarinet with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Professor of Clarinet, Director of Contemporary Music Performance and Chair of the Woodwind Department at the Boston Conservatory. His teachers include Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr, Eric Mandat, Kalmen Opperman, and Richard Stoltzman. Norsworthy is an artistic advisor for Henri Selmer Paris and an artist clinician for Vandoren SAS and plays on Selmer Paris clarinets and Vandoren products.
David Gompper has lived and worked professionally as a pianist, a conductor, and a composer in New York, San Diego, London, Nigeria, Michigan, Texas and Iowa. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London with Jeremy Dale Roberts, Humphrey Searle, pianist Phyllis Sellick and conductor Norman Del Mar. After teaching in Nigeria, he received his doctorate at the University of Michigan and taught at the University of Texas, Arlington. Since 1991, he has been Professor of Composition and Director of the Center for New Music at the University of Iowa. In 2002-2003 Gompper was in Russia as a Fulbright Scholar, teaching, performing and conducting at the Moscow Conservatory. In 2009 he received an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, and a Fromm commission in 2013. Gompper’s compositions have been performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Merkin Halls (New York), Wigmore Hall (London), Konzerthaus (Vienna) and the Bolshoi and Rachmaninoff Halls (Moscow Conservatory). The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded his Violin Concerto with Wolfgang David (Naxos). As a pianist, he has maintained an active collaborative profile with Wolfgang David, Timothy Gill, Christine Rutledge, Stephen Swanson and John Muriello, and on this disc, Michael Norsworthy.
This is a nice little program of pieces for clarinet and piano by 20-21st century composers. It might even be a representation of the state of the art for this genre. All of these pieces are basically tonal and would work well in a recital.
Michael Norsworthy, professor of clarinet at Boston Conservatory at Berklee has an impressive set of credentials in the interpretation and performance and teaching of new music. This performing academic has quite a list of recordings to his credit.
David Gompper is a composer and pianist with a similarly extensive set of credentials in support of new music (his own and others’).
The disc opens with a six movement suite of short pieces by Robert Beaser (1954- ) called, Souvenirs (2001-2). Beaser is one of the finest composers of his generation and his tonal style was a hallmark of his work from the very beginnings. These short, personal sketches are a delightful example of his work. These pieces were originally written for piccolo and piano and are here presented in the composer’s transcription for clarinet and piano.
The next piece, Black Anemones (1980) is originally for flute and piano and is a sort of modern classic (here is a recent review of the flute and piano version). The Pulitzer Prize winning Joseph Schwantner (1943- ) is also among the finest composers working today. This transcription for clarinet by Mr. Norsworthy will most certainly guarantee further performances. This is truly lovely music inspired by poetry of Agueda Pizarro.
Three American Pieces (1944-5) by Lukas Foss (1922-2009) are another sort of classic set of pieces. These are early compositions in a neo-classical/nationalist style characteristic of this period of Foss’ compositional style. It is great to have a new recording of these entertaining pieces. Foss is due for a reckoning I think.
Marti Epstein (1959- ), also a professor at Berklee was represented in an earlier review of a disc (here) dedicated entirely to her gentle music imbued with memories of her upbringing in the great plains of the Midwest. Nebraska Impromptu (2013) is characteristic of this composer’s gentle but substantial music. Her website also contains a very interesting occasional blog that is worth your time.
Derek Bermel (1967- ) is here represented by schiZm (1993-4). Originally for oboe and piano the composer also made this transcription for clarinet and piano. Bermel describes some of the fascinating techniques that underlie the structure of this two movement piece but the result of those techniques is a very interesting piece of music.
Last but definitely not least is the title track Traceur (2014-5) by composer/pianist David Gompper (1954-). It is the longest and most complex of the pieces presented and requires the most involvement on the part of the musicians as well as the listener. I don’t mean to imply that this is difficult music because it isn’t. It is substantial music whose charms demand close listening, an effort for which one will be rewarded.
This lucid recording was produced by Norsworthy and Gompper (with the assistance of Robert Beaser in the recording of his work). It was recorded in 2015 with editing and mastering by Patrick Keating. Very nice disc. Highly recommended. - Allan Cronin, New Music Buff, 10.2016
As per its subtitle, Traceur is, quite literally, American music for clarinet and piano: all six of the composers featured are American, even if one, Lukas Foss, was born in Germany before emigrating to the US at a young age. But the classical settings on the release are American in other ways, too. In sometimes drawing from jazz and even blues traditions, they embody the country's melting-pot character as well as its vitality, optimism, and pioneering spirit, and furthermore the clarinet itself carries with it indelible associations with the US via Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, the opening flourish of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and so on. The recording also acts as somewhat of a survey of American composition in presenting works written as early as the 1940s (Foss's Three American Pieces) and as recent as the 2010s (Marti Epstein's Nebraska Impromptu and David Gompper's Traceur). Put simply, America's roots show throughout this excellent collection of premieres and first recordings of new transcriptions for clarinet.
Satisfaction doesn't come from the compositions alone but in the stellar musicianship of pianist Gompper and clarinetist Michael Norsworthy (WAM, his collaboration with Michael Finnissy, was reviewed at textura earlier this year). Both bring impressive credentials to the collaboration, Norsworthy the Chair of the Woodwind Department at the Boston Conservatory and Gompper, a composer as well as pianist, a professor since 1991 at the University of Iowa.
If there's somewhat of a polyglot character to Souvenirs, the opening six-part piece by Robert Beaser, it might have something to do with the fact that it pairs reworks of his Mountain Songs for flute and guitar with three movements of new material. “Happy Face” introduces the work on an appropriately buoyant note, its bright tone explained in part by its white keys-only piano part, after which “Lily Monroe” brings Souvenirs' folk dimension to the forefront. Elsewhere, “Y2K” and “Ground O” exude elegiac qualities, while “Cindy Redux” swings with a jubilance reminiscent of both jazz and ragtime. With elements drawn from Appalachian tunes and a Spanish folk song, the work's stylistic breadth reflects American industriousness.
Though Joseph Schwantner originally composed Black Anemones as a soprano-and-piano work for Lucy Shelton, it's heard here in a transcription for clarinet by Norsworthy, whose playing invests the dreamy setting with a depth of feeling equal to Dawn Upshaw's version on White Moon. Written at Norsworthy's request, Epstein's Nebraska Impromptu evokes in wistful and at times brooding musical form the landscape remembered by the composer from his childhood. Foss acknowledged the influence of folk music, jazz, and Aaron Copland on his Three American Pieces, but its parts, which range between heartfelt lyricism and moments of high energy, are primarily marked by their song-like character and melodic emphasis.
Drawing inspiration from the art of Parkour, Gompper's fifteen-minute title piece parts company in exchanging the nostalgic, often song-like form of the others for a freer, explorative style. Yet even though it's comparatively more abstract, it shares with the others a high-spiritedness emblematic of America and its music. If there's a moment when Traceur departs American shores for another locale, it occurs when “Field of Stars,” the sinuous opening movement of Derek Bermel's SchiZm, evidences a rather Arabian flavour.
All told, this is a consistently rewarding recording distinguished by virtuosic playing by Norsworthy and Gompper. Though changes in dynamics and tempo are admittedly easier to administer when two are involved than a larger ensemble, the deep connection between the musicians is evident throughout the set, and the expressiveness of their performances proves to be as strong a selling-point for Traceur as the pieces themselves. - Ron Schepper, textura, October 2016