Figueiredo & Sanchez Play Latin Clarinet Music

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INTUCÍON / MARQUEZ: Zarabandeo. LOBATO: Clarinet Sonata (arr. Sanchez). SAGLIE: Psychological Morphologies According to Matta. D’RIVERA: The Cape Cod Files. / Virginia Figueiredo, cl; Lorenzo Sanchez, pno / Centaur CRC3740

This is a program of music for clarinet and piano by Latin American composers: Arturo Marquez, Domingo Lobato, Luis Saglie and the most famous name represented here, Paquito d’Rivera. Los Angeles-based clarinetist Virginia Figueiredo is an internationally active performer, recording artist, and educator who has toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, South America, and Asia as a soloist and chamber musician.

FigueiredoThank goodness that most of this music is better written and more interesting than the rather trashy “classical tangos” of Astor Piazzola. From the outset, Marquez’ Zarabandeo has a lively beat and tempo allied to harmonically interesting and challenging music with interesting development. I was particularly impressed by Figueiredo’s playing; she has a firm, round yet fluid tone, not too dissimilar from that of Artie Shaw, and like Shaw she has an excellent grasp of rhythm. I wonder if she has ever played jazz or jazz-classical hybrids; she sounds as if she is made for such music. And happily, pianist Sanchez is also a lively performer who is with her every step of the way. Despite the fact that Marquez is a Latino composer, there are moments in Zaradandeo that somewhat resemble Klezmer music, in part due to the unusual, somewhat modal harmonies used. My sole complaint of this work is that it went on too long and didn’t add much to what had been said in the first four minutes.

Lobato’s Clarinet Sonata is an altogether more serious and less dance-like work, using descending whole tone chords and other harmonic “trap doors” to shift and change the harmony as it moves along. There are also a few moments in the piano accompaniment that, to my ears, simulate jazz rhythm, though these moments are transitory and do not last very long. Yet in a very real sense, Lobato develops his themes as much via rhythm as via harmonic or melodic variations, thus in the first movement alone one hears about six different rhythms, and the soloist’s cadenza moves through three different keys. The second movement begins with some very mysterious, almost Szymanowski-like harmonies played by the pianist, who continues playing solo for nearly two minutes before the clarinetist enters. The clarinet, playing in its lower register, caresses the ear with rich, warm, melodic phrases, after which the pianist attempts to liven up the pace—but the clarinet keeps protesting and leading the keyboard back towards calmer, more melodic lines. The third movement, which begins with the clarinet, is a lively piece that almost sounds like a hora except for its very Latin-sounding shifting of beats within the bar. Eventually, the clarinet plays an extended series of eighth-note runs as the music hurtles towards its conclusion.

Psychological Morphologies According to Matta combines Latin rhythms with some quite formidable atonality; it’s a strange mixture, but it works. In the first movement, Saglie also has the lead instrument play some figures that resemble klezmer as well as low-range growls. The music jumps around in an almost unsettling way, yet never loses its focus or direction. The second movement, though a slow one, is even stranger-sounding since Saglie employs similar devices within an entirely different mood and mindset. Needless to say, the brisk third movement, marked “Con fuoco,” is almost a rhythmic and harmonic free-for-all, with the clarinet striking out up and down the dissonant scale like a trapped rat trying to escape its cage while the piano jabs and stabs its own dissonant figures, chords and keyboard trills into the melee.

D’Rivera, of course, is a musician who has gone back and forth between the jazz and classical worlds for most of his career, and although there are moments of jazz rhythm in the first movement of his Cape Cod Files he keeps to a fairly strict classical layout in terms of theme statement (rather bitonal) and development. By 2:31, however, the pianist is clearly playing boogie woogie while the clarinet goes along for the ride. And here Figueiredo clearly shows her affinity for jazz rhythm, which I had suspected from the beginning of this CD. By contrast, the slow second movement is more lyrical and less jazzy than the first despite a lively use of rhythm. Interestingly, the third movement, titled “Lecuoneiras,” is an extended clarinet solo that opens lyrically but becomes livelier (and much more tonal, almost folk-song-like in structure) as it wends its way along. It undoubtedly helps that d’Rivera is also a reed player (clarinet, bass clarinet and alto sax), as his music shows a very deep understanding of what the instrument can and cannot do. The last movement brings the piano back and again alternates Latin and jazz rhythms in d’Rivera’s very clever mixture, at times using stepwise movement (initiated by the piano) to move the music along both harmonically and rhythmically. In the middle of the movement, Figueiredo plays a very Artie Shaw-like upward glissando, landing perfectly on her top note.

This disc was a very pleasant surprise for me. I didn’t really know what to expect, but that was exactly what made the journey of discovery so much fun.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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