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Music for Clarinet Quartet

Terence Thompson’s witty jazz suite City Scenes starts with a light-hearted Stroll in the City, delicately sketched. Blowing the Blues provides a leisurely interlude, before the cheerful and lively Hot Potato Boogie, a blues derivative, with its characteristic bass pattern.

George Gershwin, of immigrant Russian-Jewish parentage, acquired an idiomatic facility with lighter American musical idioms, exemplified in the many contributions he made to the musical stage. His Somebody loves me was written for the show George White’s Scandals of 1924, the fourth and last of an annual series of shows, exactly contemporary with his attempt to fulfil classical ambitions with his famous Rhapsody in Blue.

The Belgian composer Rik Pelckmans is probably best known for his Swing March. His Slapstick is introduced by characteristic chordal harmonies, before the piece takes its way, against its standard bass pattern, melodic contours interweaving, as the saints come marching home.

Willy Mortier’s jazz suite opens with Rainbow Bridge, its chords building on a repeated accompanying figure. It is followed by the languid and gently evocative The Maid of the Mist and the ascending Skylon. Oneida, Clifton Hill and Pyramid Place, continue to sketch the surrounds of the Niagara Falls, the Skylon Tower, the national park of Pyramid Place and other sites, all in skilfully contrived textures.

George Botsford became familiar with the traditional cakewalk in his native Iowa. His later career centred on New York, where he was part of the fashion for composing dances associated with animals, the fox, the turkey, and, in his case, the grizzly bear. His wellknown Black and White Rag is aptly arranged here for clarinet quartet, one of a number of alternative instrumentations of the piece.

Gershwin’s Liza is taken from his 1929 musical Show Girl. The Three Preludes for piano date from 1926. They represent the composer’s search for a form of synthesis between the classical and jazz. The second movement is a blues, forming a contrast with the first and third pieces. The song The man I love has appeared in many arrangements, ranging from Percy Grainger to Larry Adler, and in performances by leading classical singers, among others. It was first popularised by the torch singer Helen Morgan.

Leonard Bernstein established himself as a figure of great importance in American musical life, both as a composer and as a conductor. His West Side Story, to a book by Arthur Laurents and in collaboration with the choreographer Jerome Robbins, translates Romeo and Juliet into contemporary American terms, with the rivalry of two gangs, the Jets and Sharks. The excerpts arranged for clarinet quartet include the tense stand-off between the gangs and the doomed love-affair between Tony and Maria, the heart of the tragedy.

The musical found one of its best known exponents in Richard Rodgers, collaborating first with Lorenz Hart and then with Oscar Hammerstein II. The Blue Room is taken from the 1926 collaboration with Hart, The Girl Friend, a love-song.

Gershwin achieved his only real operatic success in his Porgy and Bess, first staged in 1935, and based on a work by DuBose Heyward, who collaborated with Ira Gershwin, his brother’s usual lyricist. It is based on the poignant romance of a black South Carolina cripple and beggar, Porgy, and his beloved Bess, on Catfish Row. Among the best known songs in the opera is Summertime, which has taken on an independent existence. It is sung by Clara in the first act, as she nurses her baby, a moving lullaby. Oh, Lady Be Good is from the musical Lady Be Good, a collaboration with Ira Gershwin and others, first staged in 1924.

K. Zach

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