Christopher Nichols: Almost All-American - 21st-Century Works for Clarinet
The Clarinettist Christopher Nichols and his musical crew (almost all from the University of Delaware) give affectionate performances of music in a conservative vein, mostly written since 2013, which Nichols calls some of his ‘favourite individual and consortium commissioning projects’ and which have become ‘core pieces of his repertoire’.
The programme is bookended by James M Stephenson, whose ‘Liquid Melancholy’ CD with Chicago Symphony clarinettist John Bruce Yeh received a 2019 Grammy nomination. His 20-minute Sonata explores the wonderfully mellifluous things the instrument can do, with a delightful ‘Jam Bourrée’ interlude for E flat clarinet. Stephenson’s most substantial piece is the second movement of his two-movement Fantasie, a 2015 arrangement of the composer’s original for trumpet, featuring exquisitely gentle lyrical writing for both clarinet and piano leading to a charming dialogue between the two instruments.
The most lively is Sy Brandon’s Divertimento for woodwind quartet; the composer has written for Performance Today and the Animal Planet cable channel, and his three-movement Divertimento, consisting of a ‘Frolic’, ‘Ballad’ and ‘Tarantella’, is just the type of affectionately adventurous music you’d like your grandchildren to grow up and play.
The most haunting is Scottish-American Jennifer Margaret Barker’s … to the pale green sea of evening, a lovely invocation of the Mediterranean colours and moods of Malta and Gozo. The most intriguing is Joseph Eidson’s Birds of Passage, set to two Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poems, one about bleak autumn and the other about the joys of Creation, particularly notable for countertenor Augustine Mercante’s lyrical intensity and the way he polishes each word with lapidarian ecstasy.