BERNSTEIN/GERSHWIN (Guy Gerard/ Jean-Michel Charlier/ Massimo Ricci/ Ronald van Spaendonck) (Naxos: 8.557407)
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Music for Clarinet Quartet
Terence Thompson's witty jazz suite City Scenes startswith a light-hearted Stroll in the City, delicatelysketched. Blowing the Blues provides a leisurelyinterlude, before the cheerful and lively Hot PotatoBoogie, a blues derivative, with its characteristic basspattern.
George Gershwin, of immigrant Russian-Jewishparentage, acquired an idiomatic facility with lighterAmerican musical idioms, exemplified in the manycontributions he made to the musical stage. HisSomebody loves me was written for the show GeorgeWhite's Scandals of 1924, the fourth and last of anannual series of shows, exactly contemporary with hisattempt to fulfil classical ambitions with his famousRhapsody in Blue.
The Belgian composer Rik Pelckmans is probablybest known for his Swing March. His Slapstick isintroduced by characteristic chordal harmonies, beforethe piece takes its way, against its standard bass pattern,melodic contours interweaving, as the saints comemarching home.
Willy Mortier's jazz suite opens with RainbowBridge, its chords building on a repeated accompanyingfigure. It is followed by the languid and gentlyevocative The Maid of the Mist and the ascendingSkylon. Oneida, Clifton Hill and Pyramid Place,continue to sketch the surrounds of the Niagara Falls,the Skylon Tower, the national park of Pyramid Placeand other sites, all in skilfully contrived textures.
George Botsford became familiar with thetraditional cakewalk in his native Iowa. His later careercentred on New York, where he was part of the fashionfor composing dances associated with animals, the fox,the turkey, and, in his case, the grizzly bear. His wellknownBlack and White Rag is aptly arranged here forclarinet quartet, one of a number of alternativeinstrumentations of the piece.
Gershwin's Liza is taken from his 1929 musicalShow Girl. The Three Preludes for piano date from1926. They represent the composer's search for a formof synthesis between the classical and jazz. The secondmovement is a blues, forming a contrast with the firstand third pieces. The song The man I love has appearedin many arrangements, ranging from Percy Grainger toLarry Adler, and in performances by leading classicalsingers, among others. It was first popularised by thetorch singer Helen Morgan.
Leonard Bernstein established himself as a figure ofgreat importance in American musical life, both as acomposer and as a conductor. His West Side Story, to abook by Arthur Laurents and in collaboration with thechoreographer Jerome Robbins, translates Romeo andJuliet into contemporary American terms, with therivalry of two gangs, the Jets and Sharks. The excerptsarranged for clarinet quartet include the tense stand-offbetween the gangs and the doomed love-affair betweenTony and Maria, the heart of the tragedy.
The musical found one of its best known exponentsin Richard Rodgers, collaborating first with Lorenz Hartand then with Oscar Hammerstein II. The Blue Room istaken from the 1926 collaboration with Hart, The GirlFriend, a love-song.
Gershwin achieved his only real operatic success inhis Porgy and Bess, first staged in 1935, and based on awork by DuBose Heyward, who collaborated with IraGershwin, his brother's usual lyricist. It is based on thepoignant romance of a black South Carolina cripple andbeggar, Porgy, and his beloved Bess, on Catfish Row.
Among the best known songs in the opera isSummertime, which has taken on an independentexistence. It is sung by Clara in the first act, as shenurses her baby, a moving lullaby. Oh, Lady Be Good isfrom the musical Lady Be Good, a collaboration withIra Gershwin and others, first staged in 1924.K. Zach