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Gulfstream: 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; enhakē [http://www.enhake.com/]: Wonkak Kim, clarinet, M. Brent Williams, violin, Jayoung Kim, cello, Eun-Hee Park, piano, Corinne Stillwell, violin, Pamela Ryan, viola; Naxos 8.559692, ©2011, TT 55:08, $9.99.
The first two works of this pleasant program are single movement pieces that flow seamlessly and steadily through their varied sections; the second pair are more traditionally structured. The approximately 9.5-minute Larsen piece, commissioned in 2010 by enhakē, was inspired by a sculpture by Arthur Lopez of the same title (in Spanish) located in the Denver Art Museum that depicts the Madonna and Child in Rodeo regalia. It incorporates medieval chant melodies from a Mass that Larsen knew as a child in Catholic schools, and has some jazzy moments, but none of the stereotypically Western Copland-esque rhythms that one might anticipate. The approximately 11.25-minute Lieuwen work, composed in 2007 in anticipation of the 2008 centennial of the birth of Messiaen – the instrumentation is that of his Quatuor pour la fin du temps – and dedicated to enhakē, is nature-inspired music; it bears no atmospheric or stylistic resemblance to the Quatuor, however, seeking to suggest sonically the movement of the Gulf stream across the Atlantic – the composer was born in Utrecht, The Netherlands – and its climatic effects.
The 19.75-minute Schickele work, the program's longest, was composed in two spurts: the first two movements in 1979, the last two in 1982; more or less of equal length, they alternate slow-fast-slow-fast. It is fairly typical Schickele, when he is not in his P.D.Q. Bach mode, with syncopation and jazzy moments, especially in its second movement, in a modern, essentially tonal texture in a classical framework. The roughly 14.75-minute Copland piece is his 1937 reworking and paring down of his 1935 second Symphony, executed in the (successful) hope of earning it greater exposure because orchestras were not programming its original incarnation. It is the most traditional of all the works with its three nearly equal length movements in fast-slow-fast concerto-style structure. We recognize immediately in it the composer's signature rhythms and style as found in his contemporary El Salón Mexico (1935) and his ballets such as Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942), closing the loop with the program opener's title at least.
The playing order is reverse chronological, which is coincidentally alphabetical for the piano-trio-plus-clarinet works with the sextet as the finale, as listed above. It works out as a very balanced order musically as well. The performance is outstanding, highly polished and smooth-flowing. The sound quality is excellent; the recording venue is the Opperman Music Hall at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where the two guest musicians are faculty members, the violinist earned his Master's and Doctorate, and the pianist is currently pursuing hers. Since the recording was made, the ensemble has acquired a new cellist, Katherine Geeseman, who is also pursuing a Doctorate there. The Korean-born clarinetist, the ensemble's leader, who also earned his Doctorate there, is currently on the faculty of Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. His NC connection is his undergraduate degrees in math and music (studying with Donald Oehler) at UNC-CH.
The tri-fold booklet is the typical Naxos minimal in terms of paper quantity and tiny font size, but maximized information quality, with concise but thorough notes, including biographical information for each composer, and each work's genesis, structure, and content on the first two interior panels, and color photos of the two guest artists (Stillwell and Ryan) accompanying their bios on the two sides of the third. The 'bio' of the ensemble with an accompanying color group photo appears on the back of the second panel, with the customary reproduction of a work of art, in this case a modern one by Youngsun Cho, on the cover, the outside of the first panel.
This is enjoyable and interesting music exceedingly well played, so a fine offering. I have two complaints, however: at just over 55 minutes, the ensemble should have found and added another piece to flesh out the program and fill the 25+ remaining minutes of available recording space – the added length would not have been at all tiresome!; and neither the booklet nor the ensemble's web site offers an explanation of the origin and/or meaning of its name, perhaps obvious to a Korean speaker, but not a common everyday American word.