Last night the Sol Joseph Recital Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) provided the venue for a Faculty Artist Series recital by clarinetist Jeff Anderle. This was an “… and friends” program, since Anderle performed only two solo compositions, the first two on the program. However, the high point of the evening came when when Anderle recruited my three favorite clarinetists in the San Francisco Symphony (Carey Bell, Luis Baez, and Jerome Simas) for a quartet arrangement of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Strictly speaking, this was an arrangement of an arrangement, since the “source text” was Ferruccio Busoni’s flamboyant piano arrangement of the Chaconne movement that concludes Bach’s BWV 1004 solo violin partita in D minor. Arranger Kyle Hovatter prepared a score for two clarinets (Bell and Baez) and two bass clarinets (Anderle and Simas) strictly from Busoni’s piano score, presumably without ever “looking back” on the Bach original. Last night his efforts were given their world premiere performance; and, at least for those of who have either played (or, in my case, struggled with) Busoni’s thickly-textured approach to writing for solo piano, the results were stunningly impressive. Indeed, Hovatter appears to have known enough about the varying sonorities across the different registers of both instrument types to endow Busoni’s music with a transparency that tends to be lost on a piano’s sounding board (particularly when the pianist is overworking the damper pedal).
Bach-in-transcription turned out to be a central theme of the program. While the Chaconne arrangement closed off the first half of the program, the evening concluded with the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo of Anderle and Jonathan Russell presenting Russell’s arrangement of the BWV 565 organ toccata and fugue coupling in D minor. For the record, Busoni also transcribed this Bach favorite for piano; but, in this case, it is clear that Russell was working from the original organ score. The result was more of a straightforward account of the notes, which is probably as it should have been, since every organist makes his/her own decisions as to how those notes will sound through which ranks of pipes (and, for that matter, at what tempo). If that result was not as ostentatious as the arrangement of Busoni, it still provided its own unique way of listening to Bach.
The entire second half of the program was taken by Sqwonk. Russell has an easygoing verbal delivery with a capacity for witty banter, so the Sqwonk set felt more like a club gig than a recital. However, it provided an enjoyable survey of the efforts of composers, all of whom had been born during the second half of the twentieth century. As might be guessed, most of the music that Sqwonk plays was written with the duo in mind; and the diversity of approaches across such composers as Marc Mellits, Cornelius Boots, Aaron Novik, and Ryan Brown was impressive.
Brown also provided the arrangement for the second of Anderle’s two solo offerings. In this case the music arranged was “Zoetrope,” a song performed by a Scottish electronic band called Boards of Canada. While Anderle has recorded Brown’s arrangement, last night was his first live performance, which required his playing against real-time electronic processing.
The opening selection was a two-movement solo clarinet sonata by Edison Denisov. Born in Siberia in 1929, Denisov enjoyed the encouragement of Dmitri Shostakovich; but his work was too “advanced” for Soviet authorities, particularly when Stalin was in charge. Performing his music was out of the question; and, while he was allowed to teach, he could only give classes in theory, rather than composition.
The two movements of his sonata demonstrated the extent to which Denisov was determined to leave the beaten path. The opening movement is an Adagio which explores the use of microtones to provide a more precise account of how glissando effects should be executed. The second movement takes an almost stochastic approach to distributing its notes broadly across the multiple registers of clarinet sonority. Both movements held up well, at least for those without the tone-deafness of the Soviets and the ability to think about (if not grasp) both the “what” and the “why” of how Denisov could unfold his phrases.