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