Bryan Crumpler’s offering of seldom-performed works from the clarinet choir repertoire brings new meaning to the notion of “I did it my way.” All of the tracks were played, recorded and mixed to his satisfaction and now available on CD for clarinet enthusiasts and esoteric music lovers alike.
The result is not without its problems, but the rendering of Peter Schickele’s Monochrome III is worth the purchase price on its own. Like Victor Borge, Schickele is best known for his hilarious send up of all things classical. A.k.a. PDQ Bach—black sheep and deranged musicologist of the most gifted musical family of the Baroque and Classical periods—like the exquisitely gifted Danish pianist, his jokes only ring true because he knows whereof he speaks. Perhaps, too, this work is the pick of the litter because it features nine soprano clarinets, which provide a density not found in Bertouille’s brief Adagio expressive (from Concertino for Clarinet Quartet—a bit of filler, it seems) and a much more mature compositional palette.
“Moderate cool” is compelling from the outset, replete with an echo of Dvořák’s “New World Symphony” in the theme and carefully balanced with homophonic sections that come across beautifully. Further contrast is the spicy fun of a vif segment, where nine Crumplers’ keys click in exactly the same manner as the passages unfold.
Even more engaging is “Gentle flowing.” Not unexpectedly, the unisons are most certainly so. The composer mocks his own title with the second section before easing back into a jazzy episode that is notable for Crumpler’s technical pizzazz that seldom betrays him on any of the tracks. Memorable are the final measures with an oh-so-quiet adieu.
The rest of the album is hit-and-miss.
The most significant faux pas is Barber’s famed Adagio. Crumpler simply cannot match the legato of strings. His numerous finger slaps belie the mystery and magic of the original and arranger Lucien Cailliet’s spurious additional notes for the “solo” clarinet are as trite as they are unwelcome. The famous stratospheric crisis/climax is shrill rather than intense—no collection of diaphragms and single reeds can possibly match the dramatic angst of fully drawn bows and into-the-string left hands.
Still, the last gasp is marvellously exhaled.
The collection opens with Desportes’ charming Caractères. “The Warm Welcomer” initially surprises as the “sextet” inhales, exhales and “leaks” its breath in exactly the same “pitch”—astonishing at first, annoying ere too long. “The Loner” features Crumpler’s magnificent mastery of the contra bass clarinet. The title couldn’t be more appropriate.
“Nonchalant” begins amiably and manages an engaging lilt from stem to stern. The trills are brilliant even if the E-flat clarinet is far too present.
“Hothead” is reedily grumpy, yet despite its Gershwin-esque references, can’t keep the ensemble tight. “Dreamer” lays down a wondrous bed of colour for the sopranos as they chat amongst themselves. The dying moment is especially fine. “The Joker” eschews Bartók snaps for Crumpler foot-stomps. His E-fer sauciness reveals spot-on characterization and is near-coquettish in its delivery.
The final offering (Dondeyne’s Symphonie des clarinettes) further displays Crumpler’s considerable skills (especially his forays into the lower terrain—always pitch perfect and heartfelt), but suffers from balance problems in the mixdown and compositional letdowns in the writing.
Nonetheless, the disc is a tremendous achievement and serves to whet the appetite for what Crumpler can achieve when truly “seul.” JWR