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Swing: A Benny Goodman Story
Louis PRIMA (1910-1978)
Sing, sing, sing (with a swing) [3:39]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Concerto for clarinet, strings and harp [17:08]
Fred FISCHER (1875-1942)
Chicago [3:54]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Prelude, Fugue and Riffs for solo clarinet and jazz ensemble [8.00]
Cliff BURWELL (1898-1976)
Sweet Lorraine [6:10]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Ebony Concerto for clarinet and jazz ensemble [9:06]
Edgar SAMPSON (1907- 1973)
Stompin' at the Savoy [3:34]
Ben BERNIE (1891-1943) & Maceo PINKARD (1897-1962)
Sweet Georgia Brown [3:04]
Pierre Genisson (clarinet)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Keith Lockhart
Bruno Fontaine (piano & arrangements)
rec. 2018, Studio 1, BBC Maida Vale, London
APARTÉ AP218 [54:50]

Solo clarinettist Pierre Genisson has released this album on Aparté, bringing together three core works for clarinet and orchestra with five popular jazz standards. The title ‘Swing – A Benny Goodman Story’ is Genisson’s tribute to the legacy of renowned American jazz performer Benny Goodman (1909-1986) known as the ‘King of Swing’ who moved easily between jazz and classical music and performed all eight works here. A native of Marseille, Genisson was born in 1986, the same year Goodman died. Studying at the Rueil-Malmaison Conservatoire and Conservatoire de Paris, he went on to attend the University of Southern California.

Chicago-born Goodman jazz clarinettist and bandleader fronted his first band in 1934, soon gaining tremendous popular acclaim with a string of hits thanks to his danceable swing style. (The website is a helpful resource.) In the mid-1930s, Goodman, following a challenge by his viola-playing brother-in-law, started to play classical repertoire works and studied for a time with classical clarinettist Reginald Kell. Goodman commissioned several classical works, notably from Bartók, Gould, Copland, Hindemith and Milhaud.

Copland’s Concerto for clarinet, strings and harp, designed in two movements linked by a cadenza, is one of the most celebrated concertos for the instrument. Goodman commissioned the score, which was completed in 1949, and gave its first performance with the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner in 1950 in New York. There is plenty of opportunity for display for the soloist. Genisson gives a wistfully atmospheric mood to the lyrical opening movement, which is followed by a jazzy second movement of a bright, uplifting character.

Not a Goodman commission, Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue and Riffs for jazz ensemble featuring solo clarinet was originally intended for Woody Herman’s jazz band in 1949. Hermann’s band disbanded and the triptych lay in a drawer until Bernstein prepared a revised version for an intended ballet scene in his musical Wonderful Town (1953). According to the website, the original score, although dedicated to his friend Benny Goodman, was actually introduced by soloist Al Gallodoro in 1955. Grabbing the bull by the horns, Genisson revels in the jazzy rhythms providing a performance which crackles with vibrancy. 

In 1945 Stravinsky wrote his Ebony Concerto for clarinet and jazz ensemble, a commission for Woody Herman’s band the First Herd. With Herman as soloist Stravinsky choose Walter Hendl to conduct the band at the premičre given in 1946 in Carnegie Hall, New York. Stravinsky was no stranger to jazz influences in his music and the three movement Ebony Concerto seems to inspire Genisson to considerable heights. Opening with an Allegro moderato movement, the score is highly percussive, creating a sense of motion, perhaps of train journeys. Genisson’s playing in the very short, bluesy Andante evokes a somewhat eerie character but it’s never threatening. Marked Moderato con moto, the Finale using a theme and variation form with coda is buoyant, with a sparkling quality.

The five shorter pieces all associated with Goodman are a real treat for the ear. Well-chosen by Genisson, all are popular jazz standards, foot-tapping and highly melodic: Louis Prima Sing, sing, sing (with a swing), Fred Fischer Chicago, Cliff Burwell Sweet Lorraine, Edgar Sampson Stompin' at the Savoy and Ben Bernie and Maceo Pinkard Sweet Georgia Brown. Thanks are due to the pianist on this album, Bruno Fontaine, for making these convincing arrangements. All are enjoyable but standing out is Prima’s Sing, sing, sing (with a swing) with Genisson giving an uplifting account that just glistens. In addition, Sampson’s Stompin' at the Savoy and Bernie and Pinkard’s Sweet Georgia Brown are also given exhilarating performances.

Genisson is on unerringly fine form, his playing ranging from ebullient and exciting to atmospheric and affecting, together with tremendous control. Under the baton of Keith Lockhart, its chief guest conductor, the BBC Concert Orchestra plays convincingly throughout. These marvellous players have no trouble in combining tightly to provide a swing groove that almost compels a foot-tapping response. Recorded at the renowned studios of BBC Maida Vale, London, there are no problems whatsoever with the clarity, presence and balance of the sound. The booklet essay by Jean-Jacques Taďb, ‘The Benny Goodman Story’, is relatively helpful and well-written. Disappointingly by today’s standards, the CD has the rather meagre playing time of under fifty-five minutes. Certainly, another Goodman commission such as Morton Gould’s Derivations for clarinet and band, such an entertaining work, might have been easily accommodated. Not on the CD, the download version of this album includes a performance of Bartók’s Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano.

If you want performances by Goodman himself there is the 1986 album ‘Benny Goodman Collector’s Edition’ - ‘Compositions & Collaborations’ on CBS Masterworks. The album includes the Bernstein, Copland, Gould, Stravinsky and Bartók works mentioned here and, recorded in the 1940s-60s, the sound-quality is more than acceptable for its age. Offering something rather different, the album here is a joy from start to finish.

Michael Cookson



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