The clear star of this recording is the chamber group enhakē, consisting of clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. The instrumentation is that of the famous Messien Quartet for the End of Time. What I admire about the group as well as the compositions is that they choose to have that instrumentation but somehow sound like its antithesis. Instead of writing broad soloistic movements like the Quartet for the End of Time, each piece implies a much more homogenous texture. The chamber musicians blend well and manage to have perfect balance and definitive melodic material despite the vast difference in volume between the grand piano, the clarinet, and the strings (perhaps some props should go to the recording engineer on that one too).
Peter Schickele, composer of the Quartet on the album, wrote an incredibly smart composition for this instrumentation. I can confidently assert that this is the best work on the album and I dearly hope that this piece becomes standard in the repertoire. Schickele also happens to be the inventor of the satirical PDQ Bach, which further supports my feelings that the funniest people also happen to be the most brilliant.
I sensed that this album was created for the Copland Sextet to be the beacon of the album, and then was padded with newer works that expand the modern American sound. It was remarkably unsuccessful. The clear time and energy in collaboration with living composers combined with tight-knit enhakē conveyed a clear and distinctive art within the new compositions. The Copland, although perfect in notes and rhythm, did not seem to grasp me at the core because many of the musical details and colors seemed too simple and occasionally lacking in musical space in which to absorb. The vibrato choices in the strings within the second movement were appallingly sea-sick in oscillation. I can acknowledge that it is nearly impossible to tune a clarinet and piano together and expect the string players to adjust accordingly, but it was a strange choice to overdo the vibrato. Considering that the clarinet does not vibrato and the piano is incapable of that, playing doubled melody with exaggerated vibrato against a pure sound creates a sickeningly unblended texture.
Nevertheless, this album embodies the exuberance of 20th- and 21st-century American culture. Each piece on the album presents very distinctive musical viewpoints, but all lie within the context of modern American music. I could not help but put imagery to classic 20th-century American literature such as A Prayer for Owen Meany, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby while allowing the recording to unfold rich sonorities of open fifths, references to Afro-American church hymns, and old-time fiddling within the tight but expressive group of musicians. I feel that such intimacy of sound within the group demonstrates an exuberant freshness of musical intention. Each player had a distinct sound and yet they seem to vary their sounds in relation to the changing contexts of the pieces to fit the expressive mood they hope to achieve.
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