The following article appeared on the official blog of the International ClarinetFest 2014 following my performance/lecture with enhakē at the ClarinetFest in Baton Rouge, LA. The article is written by my wonderful colleague Dr. Tim Phillips, clarinet professor at Troy University.
On Saturday at 10:00 AM in the Black Box Theater, clarinetist Wonkak Kim and his chamber ensemble enhakē presented a lecture entitled “Exploring New Opportunities with Mixed Chamber Ensembles.” The ensemble consisted of Kim, violinist M. Brent Williams, cellist Katherine Geeseman Decker, and pianist Grace Eunhye Choi. (It should be noted that Choi is not a regular member of the group, but was filling in for one member who had recently had a child.)
The lecture began with the group performing the Breakdown Tango by John Mackey. This work was originally composed for Antares (formerly Elm City Ensemble) and has been performed by them at least 100 times. After the performance, Kim presented some “trivia” information about the group. He indicated that they met when they were students at Florida State University, hence the name of the group. Enhakē actually means “sound” in the Seminole language. He then guided the lecture through a series of topics: Disclaimer — things don’t always work out as planned, working with each other, establishing short-term goals, taking advantage of each other, reaching out, taking tangos to Argentina and choros to Brazil, (re)investing in the future, commissions, and recording.
Kim stressed the importance of developing friendships with the members of your chamber group. Of course, as life evolves, it is likely that you will eventually encounter individual changes of location and family circumstances. Yet, these changes do not mean that the ensemble can no longer rehearse and perform. He suggested having a handful of pieces that you return to frequently, allowing the group to really get to know each other as musicians.
Violinist M. Brent Williams explained that he had done several arrangements for the group and they performed two of these arrangements, Oblivion by Astor Piazzolla and a Brazilian choro. They noted that all of these arrangements are available for purchase on their website www.enhake.com. The session ended with the group performing a section of a new piece they recently commissioned from well-known composer Libby Larsen.
Throughout the lecture, Wonkak Kim was engaging and jovial. The other members of the group chimed in occasionally, and their performances were of the highest quality. This session was an excellent contribution to the Clarinetist as Entrepreneur theme of this conference.
–Notes by Timothy Phillips
Timothy Phillips serves as Associate Professor of Clarinet at the John M. Long School of Music at Troy University in Troy, Alabama, and manages Clarinet Corner, weekly program on Troy University Public Radio.
French clarinet works by an eighteenth-century composer and a twentieth-century composer who’s definitely of the old school.
Published on May 18, 2012
FRANÇOIS DEVIENNE: Clarinet Sonata No. 1 in C Major; Clarinet Sonata No. 2 in E-flat Major; Clarinet Sonata No. 3 in B-flat Major; Clarinet Sonata No. 4 in E-flat Major – Wonkak Kim, clarinet/ Eun-Hye Grace Choi, piano – Naxos 9.70150, 61:36 ****:
The Complete Works of LOUIS CAHUZAC = Concertino (from Baermann’s Quintet) for clarinet and piano; Pastorale cévenole for clarinet and strings; Arlequin for solo clarinet; Cantilène for clarinet and piano; Variations sur un air du pays d’Oc for clarinet and piano; Etude for solo clarinet; Fantaisie variée sur un vieil air champêtre for clarinet and piano; Sonata Classique No. 1 (from Gebauer’s duet) for two clarinets; Sonata Classique No. 2 from Gebauer’s duet) for two clarinets; Pastorale cévenole for clarinet and piano – Philippe Cuper and Philippe Olivier Devaux, clarinets/ Christine Lagniel, piano/ Les virtuoses de L’Opéra – Clarinet Classics CC0065 [Distr. by Allegro], 74:37 ***1/2:
In his short life (forty-four years), François Devienne managed to write a staggering amount of music, including, not surprisingly given his country of origin, twelve operas – some of them a hit in their day. However, as a flutist and bassoonist, as well as professor of flute at the National Institute (later the Paris Conservatory), Devienne dedicated himself mostly to works for winds, producing a dozen flute concertos and five bassoon concertos, as well as many duos and sonatas for the two instruments.
The four sonatas on this Naxos disc were arranged by the composer from four of hisFlute Sonatas Opp. 58 and 68; given the dearth of such music in the late eighteenth century, they constitute an important body of early solo chamber music for the clarinet. They were probably written originally with harpsichord accompaniment in mind, though I’m somewhat puzzled by this note from clarinetist Wonkak Kim: “The first edition of these sonatas only consists of a two-staff score for a virtuosic solo part for clarinet in C over a highly compressed and simplified bass line. As many have argued, however, Devienne’s classical style, following the spirit of Mozart and Haydn, does not suggest a baroque realisation of these unfigured continuo lines. Instead, the editions used in recording constantly feature ornate melodic lines given to the keyboard, according to the style of the period.” I confess I haven’t studied the issue too deeply, but it would seem to me that the later editions were probably based on Devienne’s original Opp. 58 and 68sonatas, which would have, one assumes, supplied much more than a skeletal outline of the accompaniment. At least the editions of Opp. 58 and 68 that I’ve seen have fully written-out keyboard parts.
In any event, I’d hardly call the melodic lines played by the piano “ornate.” In fact, they’re relatively simple and undemanding compared to those of Mozart’s sonatas for solo instrument and piano, not to mention Beethoven’s. This music is really all about the solo wind instrument, and so Ms. Choi has little to do in her accompanimental role, although she does that little well. No, this is Mr. Kim’s show, and he’s a fine advocate for Devienne’s elegant high-Classical music. While both the flute and clarinet allow for fluid execution of a melodic line, I think it’s fair to say that the clarinet’s key arrangement makes it a balkier, though only slightly balkier, instrument. So Mr. Kim is to be commended for executing Devienne’s quick runs, trills, and leaps with flute-like efficiency. He produces a clean, attractive sound from top to bottom of his range, injecting Devienne’s tender slow movements with a deeper sentiment—that’s especially true of the minor-key second movement of Sonata No. 1, which could almost be a Mozart Adagio.
Naxos’s recording from the University of Florida in Tallahassee is bright and clean and Kim’s playing makes this an attractive and valuable album, not least because only one or two of these four sonatas are currently available on disc. This is not just music for the clarinetist or the clarinet enthusiast but for all lovers of music from the age of Mozart.
It may appear somewhat eccentric to review the music of Louis Cahuzac (died 1960) along with that of Devienne (died 1803), but there is at least one reason to do so: as a composer, Cahuzac was definitely of the old school (although as a celebrated soloist he was responsible for any number of premieres of contemporary works, including first recordings of the Nielsen and Hindemith Clarinet Concertos). The Concertino andSonatas classiques recorded here are based on a quintet by Heinrich Baermann (1784-1847) and duets for clarinet and violin by Etienne-François Gebauer (1777-1823) respectively. The piano accompaniment may be a little zippier and riper of harmony than Baermann would have supplied, but the Concertino certainly doesn’t violate the spirit of the early nineteenth century. In the Gebauer piece, Cahuzac’s role is even more modest, I assume, simply arranging the original violin part for a second clarinet, resulting in a bubbly, buoyant vehicle for two gifted clarinetists to show their stuff. I’m more partial to the Baermann arrangement, with its chipper, athletic finale reminiscent of Weber. (Not too surprising since Weber wrote his famous clarinet works for his virtuoso friend Heinrich Baermann.)
I’m taking it on faith that the other pieces on offer reflect the influence of Cahuzac’s home region, the Languedoc province of southern France (the Pays d’Oc of Cahuzac’sVariations). The Pastorale cévenole, an evocation of the Cevennes mountains of the Languedoc region, has a languidly folksy air, but it’s no less sophisticated than a similar piece by Ibert or Francaix would be, while the Variations and Fantaisie are based on old melodies that have an almost hymn-like formality about them; the theme of theVariations sounds kind of like “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.” Both works, and especially theVariations, give the clarinetist ample opportunity to show off his technique, which I guess is the whole point.
All this music is pleasant, attractive, entertaining; it should be of real interest to clarinetists. For the rest of us, however, it’s hardly indispensable, as elegantly turned as the music is and as skillfully rendered by the virtuosic Philippe Cuper (his tone tarter, more acerbic than the unctuous Mr. Kim’s) and colleagues. On the other hand, if you fancy the clarinet, this well-filled disc will provide over an hour of diverting music and performances.
MusicWeb International "CD of the Month" - enhake's Gulfstream
By Brian Reinhart
This is a very fine tasting menu of American chamber music for violin, cello, clarinet and piano. Its four works are united by only one common thread - their extremely high quality. We start with a Libby Larsen work from 2010 and work back to Aaron Copland’s Sextet which adds a violin and viola.
The title of Larsen’s Rodeo Queen from Heaven sounds witty, but it’s really based on a different kind of celestial visitor; the inspiration is a hand-painted wooden carving by Arthur Lopez, of the Madonna bearing a gun and wearing a rodeo costume. Larsen’s piece somehow manages to capture the spirit of this: the piano struts about brash cowboy fashion in the opening moments, and snippets of lyrical Americana-type melody are juggled with wit, rhythmic spunk, and maybe a dash of sarcasm. The heart of the work, though, is a central series of modal meditations on more religiously-toned ideas.
Peter Lieuwen - born in Utrecht, raised in New Mexico - contributes Gulfstream, from 2007, a work which “reacts to his aural impression of the Gulfstream [sic] current,” partly inspired by global warming. That kind of description usually means I’ll hate a piece: compositions inspired by global warming? An ocean current can yield aural impressions? Will there be a sequel about air currents depositing Chinese industrial pollution over New Mexico and west Texas? But Lieuwen’s piece does indeed aspire to evoke, for chamber ensemble, the rough-and-tumble of a warm seascape. By and large it succeeds; it’s quite a pleasure to listen to, and some of the quieter passages (as after 2:45) are frankly wonderful, as is the coda.
For me, though, the highlight is Peter Schickele’s quartet of 1982. Schickele is well-known as the brains behind P.D.Q. Bach, the “last and least” of Bach’s sons (1807-1742!); Schickele has “discovered” such P.D.Q. works as the 1712 Overture, Grand Serenade for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion, The Short-Tempered Clavier, and a Pervertimento for Bicycle, Bagpipes, and Balloons. Even when he’s writing as himself, Schickele is accustomed to high spirits: among other things, he’s written a tango for four bassoons based on the ‘Tristan chord’ and an Unbegun Symphony, of which there is only a scherzo and finale.
The quartet here is not nearly as silly as that, so don’t get your hopes up (or down). It is good-humored, but in a friendly, neighborly way, like a warm handshake. Its opening evokes rural Americana, with plenty of good folksy tunes, and its centerpiece is a genuinely emotional elegy in muted colors. The finale is Schickele being witty, but not over-the-top; his humor here is along the lines of Haydn, teasing and playful. One would have to be cold-hearted to dislike music as affectionately done as this.
One would probably also have to dislike Aaron Copland, whose Sextet rounds out the recital. This is a reduction of his Second (‘Short’) Symphony, and it is vintage Copland with the composer’s typical language and incisive rhythm. There’s less of the expansive ‘American west’ feel of his populist music, but it is both playful and confident music anyway.
enhake- is an award-winning quartet which is especially active on the contemporary music circuit. The Libby Larsen piece which opens the program was commissioned and premiered (at Carnegie Hall) by the group, and Peter Lieuwen’s Gulfstream is dedicated to them as well. They certainly do the composers proud, and cannot be faulted on any grounds: their advocacy is impassioned and their playing is more or less exemplary (maybe the cellist’s bow clacks a little too harshly in louder passages). The recording is good, but turn up the volume a bit or else - by some odd trick - it sounds as if everyone is seated very far apart from each other. This is for fans of good and enjoyable contemporary chamber music, or American music in general, or for those who want to hear Peter Schickele when he’s not writing the aural equivalent of slapstick.
This is one of the very favorable early reviews on my Devienne CD by Classical Voice of North Carolina:
Endless Clarinet Delight
April 26, 2012 - Williamsburg, MA:
Devienne (1759-1803) was a contemporary of Mozart (1756-1791), so the clarinet was a relatively new instrument in his time. Readers are probably familiar with the latter’s popular works for clarinet: the Trio, K. 498 (1786), and the Quintet, K. 581 (1789), but he did not write any sonatas for it, or for any other wind instrument for that matter, except the one for bassoon and ’cello, K. 292 (1775), although there are the Five Divertimenti for two clarinets and bassoon, K. 229 (1783). Devienne was a bassoon and flute player, wrote a Méthode de Flûte Théorique et Pratique in 1793, was a charter faculty member of the Paris Conservatoire in 1795 and its first professor of flute as well as an administrator. Earlier, he had been principal bassoonist in the Musicians of the Swiss Guard, the Royal band. He was universally known in his day for his playing and was also a prolific composer. Today, he is little known, completely overshadowed by Mozart.
These sonatas were all derived by the composer from ones originally written for flute, with three of them (No. 1 is the exception) transposed here to a different key to accommodate the modern B-flat instrument – the instrument of Devienne’s time was in C. Kim discusses the original scores and lists the editions used in his brief, but detailed note in the accompanying insert, which features an attractive original watercolor “Sympathique” by Youngsun Cho depicting an 18th century clarinet-pianoforte duo (Were the musicians the models?) on its cover. Brief bios accompanied by photos of each musician are on the back cover. Track listings and timings are on the outside of the tray card.
All of the sonatas are constructed on the standard Classical-period model of fast-slow-fast movements; indeed, those of the first two have identical tempo indications: Allegro con spiritoso,Adagio, and Rondo: Allegretto. Those of the other two do not stray far from the fold, although they do introduce some variety: the slow movements are marked: Largo and Adagio cantabile, and the third movements become Andantino con varazione and Rondo: Allegretto non troppo. These indications notwithstanding, no two movements sound like each other, so there seems to be an infinite variety, with one pleasing melody and rhythm leading into the next from the beginning to the end of the CD. The pieces are all of similar length, ranging from about 14.5 to just under 17 minutes, with two hovering around 15, the first being the longest and the second, the shortest.
Kim’s playing is flawless, masterful, and as pleasing to the ear as the music itself. Choi is an excellent partner, handling the unidentified modern piano expertly to evoke the instrument of the period as closely as possible, with apparently sparing pedaling, shining forth in solo moments and receding into the background to allow the clarinet to sing out in its bravura moments. The works explore the full range of notes, capabilities, and dynamics of the clarinet. It is easy to perceive the original instrumentation of the pieces for the flute in the nature of many of the melodies even though these are not mere transcriptions. This comment should not be taken as a negative criticism, but rather as a description of the natural and systematic development of repertoire for an instrument newly arrived on the scene, a step that Mozart did not take. If you enjoy listening to Mozart’s chamber music for clarinet, you will like listening to these works, too; they have the same charming and engaging ebullience and lightness.
There are a couple of other older recordings on the market of the first two of these sonatas, paired with works by other composers, mostly from other periods, but none whatsoever of the last two. Neither have I found any recordings of the original flute sonatas, Opp. 58 and 68, from which they are derived. This CD follows in the long-established Naxos tradition of issuing recordings by fine musicians who may not have worldwide name recognition, but are nonetheless world class, of undeservedly neglected repertoire. You will not regret offering yourself the pleasure of this music, especially at the enticing Naxos price.
"BBC Music US Choice" - "Small but might" from BBC Music Magazine March 2012 issue
from Classical Music Sentinel published in January 2012
GULFSTREAM - American Chamber Music - Enhake Quartet - Corinne Stillwell (Violin) - Pamela Ryan (Viola) - 636943969229 - Released: November 2011 - Naxos 8.559692
Libby Larsen - Rodeo Queen of Heaven
Peter Lieuwen - Gulfstream
Peter Schickele - Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano
Aaron Copland - Sextet for Clarinet, Piano and String Quartet
The impressive and comprehensive American Classics series of recordings from Naxos keeps growing in leaps and bounds, and has by now pretty well covered every square mile of the American musical landscape, but still manages to offer up world premiere recordings of works from both new and well established composers. And this new CD is no exception.
Both the Libby Larsen Rodeo Queen of Heaven (2010) and the Peter Lieuwen Gulfstream (2007) are making their first recorded appearance, and certainly present themselves as solid new proponents of American music. The Larsen was commissioned by the members of enhake, and its frenetic and nervous energy serves to emphasize this ensemble's tight and rapid-fire delivery. The Lieuwen work on the other hand, with its flowing forward momentum underpinned by a dark and shifting undercurrent (pun intended), brings out these musicians more expressive and emotional qualities. For me, the show-stopper on this CD is the Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano by Peter Schickele, (the real-life alter ego of P.D.Q. Bach). It is at times melancholy, at times jazzy, dark, tongue in cheek, nostalgic and strangely evocative. All aspects which are well defined by the fine playing of this ensemble. And it goes without saying that the Sextet for Clarinet, Piano and String Quartet by Aaron Copland, with the added participation of Corinne Stillwell (Violin) and Pamela Ryan (Viola), couldn't have been better chosen to close a CD on American chamber music. A challenging work in all respects, be they musical or technical, but nothing that this group of musicians can't handle with panache.
The common denominator within all the pieces on this new CD is the focus of attention on the clarinet. These pieces all seem to use the clarinet as the central pivot to the musical drama, and clarinetist Wonkak Kim slips into that role effortlessly, always leading the way where necessary, or taking on the task of being the music's main backbone. His playing always serves the music first and foremost, and never draws undo attention to itself, a remarkable feat when you consider his constant presence within the music's fabric. A sign of superior musicianship, no doubt.
Jean-Yves Duperron - January 2012