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John CORIGLIANO (b. 1938)
Concerto for clarinet and orchestra (1977) [28:34]
Elliott CARTER (1908-2012)
Concerto for clarinet and small orchestra (1996) [20:13]
Eddy Vanoosthuyse (clarinet)
Brussels Philharmonic/Paul Meyer
rec. 19-23 December 2011, Studio 4, Flagey, Brussels, Belgium
AEON AECD 1230 [50:01]

 
Belgian Aeon is releasing a series featuring contemporary composers from the 20th and 21st centuries. This release is of music by two composers, New York City born and bred, who wrote clarinet concertos that are regarded by many as masterworks of the contemporary concertante genre.
 
John Corigliano is renowned as an eclectic who holds that his primary concern is to communicate with an audience, striving not to allow his writing to be over-technical or too thorny. The three movement Clarinet Concerto was written in 1977 and is scored for a large orchestra. Some of the players such as the five horns and two trumpets are required for spatial acoustic reasons to locate themselves at various positions in the concert hall. It was the New York Philharmonic that introduced the work under Leonard Bernstein with principal clarinettist Stanley Drucker as soloist. This is knotty and densely scored embracing dissonance and a number of intriguing and challenging effects for the soloist. Nevertheless it manages to remain accessible to the non-specialist who is prepared to adopt a reasonably degree of concentration and openness. Required to play often in the highest registers Eddy Vanoosthuyse is equal to its taxing and often extrovert challenges. Certainly Corigliano’s writing accommodates broad dynamics, contrasting emotions and a wealth of chromatic colours. Especially effective in the opening movement is the thundering climax for full orchestra at 8:34-9:05; it sends an icy shudder down the spine. The central movement is marked Elegy in memory of the composer’s father - John Corigliano senior a former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. The mainly cool and nocturnal music reminded me of the sound world Copland’s Quiet City and Ives’s Central Park in the Dark. It also evoked vast open spaces an image laced here with an underlying melancholy. Providing a haunting sadness is the passage at 4:36-6:56 where the solo violin is in dialogue with the ever-present clarinet. This duet could easily represent the composer’s concertmaster father and his colleague Stanley Drucker performing in the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Leonard Bernstein. The final movement - Antiphonal Toccata - according to soloist Vanoosthuyse might easily depict the magnitude of New York City. Here the composer has been saving up a number of instruments to use for the first time. With extra weight from additional brass - intended in concert to be off-stage - the second half of the movement majors on material that is angrily loud and discordant. One can feel Corigliano giving vent to his emotions here.
 
When Elliot Carter died in 2011 in New York aged 103 he was America’s most revered living composer. Carter wasn’t one to follow fashions and he gradually developed a personal style and gained international recognition relatively late in his life. Written in 1996 Carter was eighty-eight years old when writing his Concerto for clarinet and small orchestra. This was commissioned by Pierre Boulez and the Ensemble InterContemporain to showcase the talents of dedicatee Alain Damiens, the ensemble’s renowned clarinettist who introduced the work in 1997 at Cité de la Musique, Paris. Carter’s Clarinet Concerto is cast in seven interconnected sections with an alternating dialogue by Vanoosthuyse moving between six instrumental groups with the seventh section being for the whole orchestra. The relatively spare scoring includes only five solo strings and it seems that the concerto can be played with only one instrument to a part. This is a demanding work with the soloist required to play virtually continuously. I especially enjoyed the affecting section at 11:22-13:45 with the clarinet floating over lightly scored strings to create an introspective melancholic mood.
 
Vanoosthuyse clearly has a special affinity for these demanding concertos and advocates their character with concentration and assurance. There’s highly persuasive support from the Brussels Philharmonic. The sound is satisfactory and warmly atmospheric.
 
Michael Cookson
 

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