"Palisades Virtuosi in Recital"

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[1-3]    Concertino for Flute, Clarinet & Piano - Ernest Bloch

[4-6]    Sonata No. 3 in G Major for Flute and Piano - Philippe Gaubert

[7]        Premiere Rhapsodie [1909-10] Clarinet and Piano  - Claude Debussy

[8]        Nocturne in Db Major for the left hand  - Alexander Scriabin

[9-11]   Sinfonia Concertante for Flute, Clarinet and Piano - Franz Danzi

[12]      Tarantella, Op. 6 for Flute, Clarinet and Piano - Camille Saint-Saens



 Ernest Bloch was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1880.  After completing his violin and composition studies in Belgium and Germany, he returned to his homeland to lecture at the Geneva Conservatory.  Bloch immigrated to the United States in 1916.  He accepted a post at the Mannes College of Music in Manhattan, and subsequently directorships of the Cleveland Institute of Music and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music  During the 1930’s he spent much of his time back in Switzerland composing and conducting in various European cities.  Bloch returned to the US in 1940, where he taught at the University of California at Berkley until his retirement in 1952.  He spent the last years of his life in Oregon until his death in 1959. His music is known for its many “Hebraic” melodies and tonalities, as well as for its deeply emotional character.

 The Concertino for flute, clarinet (or viola) and orchestra was written during his neoclassical phase.  His reduction for piano has been painstakingly edited by Mr. Levy to bring clarity to the overly dense and unpianistic textures characteristic of reductions.  The three movements are performed without interruption.  The first movement is characterized by a joyous melody, modal in nature which becomes increasingly playful in its interchanges between the flute and clarinet.  The chorale-like second movement has a reflective melody and a lovely melodic arch.  The last movement begins with a very serious fugue theme that assumes a lighthearted, almost jocular character, in the coda section.

 Philippe Gaubert was born in 1879 and gained early renown as a flutist.  He studied at the Paris Conservatory with the famous Paul Taffanel, and was awarded the coveted “Premiere Prix” at the age of fifteen.  He accompanied Nellie Melba on her concert tours and was in much demand as a soloist.  He became increasingly interested in composition and conducting, however, and in 1924 he was appointed Director of the Paris Opera.  His compositions cover a wide range of genres from large scale works including ballets, operas, and symphonic tone poems, to more intimate chamber music and pieces for flute.

 The Troisieme Sonate was written in 1933 for Jean Boulze, then Principal Flutist of the Paris Opera.  The sonata consists of three movements.  The first is in a simple ABA form that moves between a sweetly lyric theme and a second of passionate longing.  The second movement is a reflective and reposed pastorale.   The joyous finale opens with a canon between the flute and piano which recalls the opening of the final movement of Franck’s violin Sonata.  The entire work is characterized by a certain “breeziness”, and harmonies which are fresh, indeed sometimes almost pungent.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) is arguably one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, often avoiding traditional forms and employing innovative devices of orchestration, rhythm and harmony.  Claude studied piano and composition at the Paris Conservatoire for 10 years with aspirations of becoming a piano virtuoso.  But after failing the exams twice he turned to composition and subsequently won the Prix de Rome two years in a row.    Although considered the most important composer of piano since Chopin, he may be best known for his orchestral contributions.  After visiting Wagner’s Bayreuth Festival in 1889, Debussy was at first fascinated by his music and, while eventually turning away from him and the German traditions, the influence of works like “Parsifal” and “Tristan” remains evident.  “Freedom” was Debussy’s watch-word for his music, extensively using modal harmonies to evoke the world in a less corporeal form.  Thus Debussy is categorized with the artists of the impressionist movement.  Like the clouds in his “Nocturnes” or the sea in “La Mer”, the atmosphere is created by suggestive musical images, which evoke feelings of mystery and of things only sensed.  He employed innovative orchestral colors created by unusual instrumental combinations in unconventional registers, often with widely spread intervals and “voicing”.  Rhythms created either an underlying, defined pulse, or were completely obscured, blurring the atmosphere.

 All of these techniques are brilliantly displayed in the eight-minute Rhapsodie for clarinet.  Having been elected (in 1909) to the Consil Supérièur du Conservatoire de Paris, Debussy was immediately asked to produce a contest piece for the spring clarinet exams.  Debussy’s composition makes demands that go well beyond the prevailing requirements of an adequate technique, light, concentrated staccato and a brightly centered tone.  Aspiring to the new musical standard raised by his friend and Conservatory director Gabriel Fauré, Debussy created a mini-masterpiece proclaiming it as “one of the loveliest pieces I have ever written.”  Even today, Pierre Boulez notes hat he is “very surprised by such grace and poetry in a contest work.”

 The Rhapsodie’s opening is characteristically soulful and atmospheric, showing off the clarinet’s elegiac, woody timbre; this section gives way to a jocular scherzando, with a rather “New Orleans” flavor. [Having heard African-American music in England in 1905, Debussy incorporated pre-jazz elements, akin to those found in the piano Preludes, “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” and “Le Petit Negre”.]  With the Rhapsodie (which was orchestrated by the composer in 1911) we find Debussy’s style actually transitioning to post-impressionism, embodying a neo-classicism that was to be a strong influence on compositions of the new century.

The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) was a colorful individual and an aesthetic visionary.  Originally sounding quite “Chopinesque”, his music became increasingly personal and idiomatic, aligned and imbued with mysticism and displaying radically new structural and harmonic innovations.  A concert pianist, many of Scriabin’s works were piano pieces written for his own recitals.  While practicing intensively (and trying to compete with brilliant virtuosos like his colleague Joset Lhevinne) Scriabin strained his right hand.  During the ensuing period of recuperation, he composed two lovely twin masterpieces: the C# minor Prelude and the Db Major Nocturne, Op9, Nos. 1 & 2, respectively.  [It is ironic that the Nocturne became a favorite recital piece of Lhevinne.]

Franz Danzi (1763-1826) was born in Mannheim, Germany into a musical family. His Italian-trained father was solo cellist in the famed Mannheim Orchestra and a personal friend of Mozart’s.  Home-taught in voice, cello and piano, Franz later studied composition, and at age 15 joined the Mannheim Orchestra as cellist.  In 1778, when the court and its orchestra moved to Munich, Danzi remained behind to work with the newly formed National Theatre.  In 1783 he moved to Munich to fill his father’s solo position.  Danzi married a singer; he subsequently became a proficient opera composer, becoming Munich’s associate Kapellmeister in 1798.  In 1807 he moved to Stuttgart to become Kapellmeister, where he met and befriended Carl Maria von Weber.  After the death of his wife in 1812, he moved to Karlsruhe where he directed his and Weber’s operas, among others, until his death in 1826.  While he was contemporaneously well known in his day for his vocal writing that included 16 stage works, few of these have survived.  His friendship with the younger Weber had its mutual influences, not  only in vocal but also in instrumental writing; indeed, Danzi is best known today for his use of winds in his concerti and chamber music.

 The Concerto for Flute and Clarinet, Op. 41 was published in 1814, most likely composed in Karlsruhe.  It is conceived on a large, symphonic scale.  Having the best players of the day at his disposal, it abounds with virtuosity (the orchestra parts are deftly handled on this recording by our pianist).  The solo wind parts are rife with characteristic lyricism and an impeccable understanding of the instruments’ technique.

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) is one of the most fascinating and seminal figures in French music.  In the course of an exceptionally long professional career, he composed over 800 works, enriching the keyboard repertoire alone by some 80 pieces.  His masterworks include much of the world’s beloved music, including the Organ Symphony, Cello Concerto, the Opera “Samson & Dalila”, and the Carnival of the Animals.  Endowed with an incandescent intellect, Saint-Saëns was an amazingly facile and technically adept musical mater.  At the age of two and a half he taught himself how to play the piano; at three he produced his earliest compositions.  At ten, at his first public piano recital, he captured international attention by offering to play, by memory, any of the 32 Beethoven sonatas as an encore.  His brilliance astounded his older colleagues.  “He knows everything…but lacks inexperience, “ quipped Berlioz of his friend and protégé.  Gounod heralded him as “the French Beethoven.”   Liszt, who considered him to be the finest organist in the world, paid for and mounted the first public performance (in Wiemar) of Samson & Dalila.

Although Saint-Saëns could be an ardent and persuasive champion of “progressive” music (Wagner, Liszt, Mussorghsky, et al.), his own music epitomizes the French taste for “classically” impeccable craftsmanship, moderation, clarity, and balance.

 The Tarantelle for Flute, Clarinet and orchestra (piano) is an early work, most likely written as a display vehicle for the flutist Paul Taffanel and the clarinetist Charles Turban.  It is a brilliant “moto perpetuo” that effectively shows off the two wind instruments, both of which had been improved mechanically by various design enhancements.

notes—Palisades Virtuosi

Cover: "Hudson Highlands Sunset" - Jasper F. Cropsey [1823-1900] not dated, oil on canvas.  Collection of the Newington Cropsey Foundation.  Used with permission.

Thanks to Mokrynski & Associates Inc and special thanks to Susan Zuniga and Sharon Podsada for their work in the creation and design of the booklet.  

Recorded June 2003 at the Bennett Studio Englewood, New Jersey

Recorded and mastered by David Kowalski.  Edited and mixed by Palisades Virtuosi

© 2003 High Point Records