Jon Manasse: American Music for Clarinet & Piano

Album Features 1997 Cliburn Winner Jon Nakamatsu

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The clarinet may forever be the mellow, melancholic instrument of Mozart and Brahms, but a new recording from clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu shows why it's just as adept at strutting its jazzier side. The collection of works by Bernstein, Gershwin, Novacek and D’Rivera is our Album of the Week.

Manasse is the principal clarinetist of the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the American Ballet Theater Orchestra and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. For a season he served as principal clarinet with the Met Opera Orchestra. Since 2004, he has partnered with Nakamatsu, the 1997 Van Cliburn Competition gold medalist, touring extensively and releasing an album of Brahms Clarinet Sonatas.

This collection stays on the sassy, jazz-inflected side of the crossover street throughout, starting with John Novacek's Four Piano Rags. These are buoyant pieces in the style of Scott Joplin, and Manasse and Nakamatsu play them with plenty of zest and charm.

Paquito D’Rivera, a clarinetist himself, wrote The Cape Cod Files to mark the 30th anniversary of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, where Manasse and Nakamatsu are artistic directors. The four-movement work also pays tribute to a quartet of 20th-century musicians: Benny Goodman, Astor Piazzolla, composer Ernesto Lecuona and Cuban-American singer Chiquita. The work’s high point is the evocative third movement, “Lecuonerias,” which Manassee endows with a supple tonal richness.

Bernstein's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano is the composer’s first published work. While it’s anchored in a more severe neo-classical style, one can hear hints of future, jazz-pop compositions, including a theme later developed in West Side Story, taking shape.

The duo rounds out the collection with sparkling, bluesy and elegantly turned performances of Gershwin's Three Preludes, plus a kicker: I Got Rhythm from Girl Crazy. For a composer who helped give the clarinet its signature lick, with the slow trill and glissando that launches Rhapsody in Blue, this side of Gershwin is just as much fun, and Manasse and Nakamatsu play it to the hilt.

Bernstein, Gershwin, Novacek, D’Rivera: American Music for Clarinet & Piano
Jon Manasse, clarinet
Jon Nakamatsu, piano
Harmonia Mundi

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Comments [4]

Vincent Rufino from Roxbury, NJ

Not all of Mozart's clarinet compositions were written for basset horn nor the clarinet in A. During the 18th century clarinets appeared pitched in several keys. Anton Stadler was Mozart's muse for all of the clarinet compositions, they were friends and fellow Masons.The Stadler bros. were brought to Vienna to play the clarinet in the Emperor's Harmonie-a wind octet that played outdoors, and although Mozart wrote to his father that the clarinet players in the Mannheim orchestra added beauty that he wished were available in Salzburg, the British musicologist, Pamela Weston wrote that, in fact, clarinets were used in the military bands in Salzburg. They most likely were not pitched in A since a more piercing sound would be required for the outdoors.

Brahms wrote his clarinet sonatas and clarinet trio for, cello, piano and Bb clarinet not clarinet in A.
A tie in to this discussion is that both of these accomplished musicians collaborated on a beautiful recording of the Brahms sonatas. So if you want to hear the "mellow" do listen to their recording- reminiscent of the great clarinetist of the National and Boston Symphonies, Harold Wright.

Nov. 05 2010 09:39 AM
Eileen Cohn from New York

It's too bad that the reviewer of the album mentions "the duo rounds out the collection with sparkling, bluesy and elegantly turned performances of Gershwin's Three Preludes, plus a kicker: I Got Rhythm from Girl Crazy. For a composer who helped give the clarinet its signature lick, with the slow trill and glissando that launches Rhapsody in Blue, this side of Gershwin is just as much fun, and Manasse and Nakamatsu play it to the hilt." but declined to mention the name of the arranger who happens to be the Composer, James Cohn. Mot of your announcers have given him credit for the arrangement. It is a great album and the two Jons are magnificent musicians.

Nov. 04 2010 06:27 PM
Michael Meltzer

It is not entirely accurate to say "mellow and melancholic" for Mozart and Brahms and "strutting its jazzier side" without pointing out that the former is usually the clarinet in A, and the latter is usually the clarinet in B-flat. They are two similar but different instruments, the former being deeper and mellower sounding, the latter being distinctly brighter sounding.
If you get into period instruments, Mozart wrote for a predecessor, the basset horn, deeper and mellower still. That's the sound most recordings give you at the opening of the Requiem.
In a more perfect world, we would always be told which instrument we were listening to, just as we should be told what brand of piano we are listening to - there are decidedly different characters out there for the respective brands.

Nov. 03 2010 08:06 AM
Michael Meltzer

It's a sad commentary on our buying habits that the album cover features the dead composers in large print and the live composers in small print, and no CD producer would think of doing it otherwise.

Nov. 01 2010 01:03 AM

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The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.

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