The following review has appeared in the Gramophone magazine, Oct. 2002 (U.S. Edition)
This disc offers premier recordings of two works for clarinet and orchestra by American composers. Dominick Argento (b 1927) is known primarily for recently his vocal music –most recently his opera Miss Havisham’s Fire the revised version of which enjoy acclaim at the St Louis Opera Theatre a couple of summers ago.
As reflected by the title, the Capriccio is a lightish showpiece, scored for a B-clarinet in the outer movements and an A-keyed instrument in the middle section. It attempts to evoke the wit and gracious spirit of Rossini the man, rather than his music, in Argento’s own neo-romantic style, refraining from quotations, or bel canto pastiche. No great depth may be plumbed , yet this is a winning enjoyable work. Launched with a brilliant upward flourish, the writing is gracefully laid out for the soloist and snappily orchestrated, bustling along alight-hearted manner. Most inspired is the middle section with a sweat melancholy to its song like main theme. If at times the music breathes some of the same relaxed lyricism as Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto, the final, with a brilliant swirling coda, is clearly from this side of the Atlantic. No stylistic ground is broken and the material may be attractive rather than indelible, but it makes a worthy addition to the clarinet repertoire.
If Argento’s divertissement avoids direct quotations, George Rocheberg Clarinet Concerto positively revels in them. Written for Anthony Gigliotti, it was premiered by him with his Philadelphia Orchestra colleagues in1996, a year before Gigliotti’s retirement after half a century of service as principal in the fabled ensemble.
Cast in one 25-minute span, Roshberg’s concerto opens with a lugubrious Adagio for clarinet, which leads to a violent orchestral chord. The work continues rather episodically with spared, widely spaced notes by the soloist alternating with burst virtuosity and dramatic orchestral passages.
As with his Prokofiev-flavoured Oboe concerto, the clarinet’s concerto quotes liberally from other composers – the Adagio of Mozart’s concerto for the same instrument most notably, and the crazed clarinet solo from the Witches’ Sabbath of Berlioz’s Syphonie Fantastique drops in as well. Why? Neither is deconstructed and the quotations seemed to appear for want of anything else better to do. More rolling timpani’s and sturm ung drang follow; yet the most memorable music comes near the end with a gentle Sognado for the soloist, leading the dark-hued Adagio with a lyric sweetness worthy of Bernstien. That moment apart, at 25 minutes, Rochberg’s concerto is over extended for it’s slight material, and seems like on of his less successful efforts.
Gigliotti’s tone and breath controls are not what they once were, yet the veteran musician give both works firm and eloquent advocacy. Apart from some lack of weight to the strings, the Taipei Symphony Orchestra shows itself a polished ensemble under music director Felix Chiu-Sen Chen, and the wide ranging recording captures the dynamic extremes of each work.
Lawrence A. Johnson
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