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Laurence Vittes
Gramophone, October 2010

A tribute to Jacqueline du Pre and many other delights from this important voice

Naxos’s third Paul Schoenfield expands the discography of the increasingly popular University of Michigan-based composer, born in 1947, whose Café Music for piano trio has already enjoyed eight recordings. With the ingenious subtlety and sophistication, impressive bag of compositional resources and maturity of purpose that only a skilled and experienced university professor can bring to the table, Schoenfield casually references this experience as an American composer, from Jewish influences to jazz to mainstream classical, with disarming charm and ease.

While both the British Folk Songs and Peccadilloes offer unique pleasures of their own, it is Refractions which makes the most serious bid for long-term repertoire inclusion. Written early in 2006, this clarinet trio was a joint commission by Yehuda Hanani’s Close Encounters With Music, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival and the University of Cincinnati. In every way the 24-minute trio reflects the nurturing cultural soil in which it developed. Like its companions on this recording, the forms of each movement are classically formal, while musical delights abound.

The Folk Songs which begin the disc were written in 1985 as a tribute to Jacqueline du Pré, two years before the cellists’s death. Whether intentionally or not, they seem to focus at least in part on the painful relationship between du Pré and her husband Daniel Barenboim: “The Basket of Eggs” is about “the sailor who is tricked into paying for the woman he deserted”; “The Parting Kiss” describes “two lovers who must part forever”.

The performances are all first-rate, embodying the kind of authentic collegial affection that performers develop for composers in the academic world.

Joseph Dalton
Times Union, September 2010

It’s surprising that there aren’t more recordings by cellist Yehuda Hanani and his Close Encounters with Music series, based in Great Barrington, Mass. Their concerts always feature clever pairings of works from various eras with thoughtfully selected recent compositions and the occasional premiere.

Hanani and CEWM are the performers on a new Naxos disc of music by American composer Paul Schoenfield. Included in the lineup of three pieces is “Refractions,” a trio for clarinet, cello and piano that Hanani and company commissioned and premiered in 2006. Like all of Schoenfield’s music, it’s loaded with gracious writing and lots of clever dancing passages. The melodic homages to Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” seem especially well-hidden to my ears, but the references to klezmer are hard to miss.

The disc opens with a rather dry account of Six British Folk Songs for cello and piano but also features pianist James Tocco in the delightful solo suite “Peccadilloes.” The title is Schoenfield chiding himself for some flagrant borrowing from Ravel, Gershwin, Joplin, Ives and who knows how many others. It’s pure magic.

David W Moore
American Record Guide, September 2010

Paul Schoenfield (b. 1947) is an American composer remarkable for his light-hearted wit and imaginative concepts. This program is put together by several talented friends of his and gives an impression of enjoyment that carries across the footlights to great effect.

It begins with evocations of six British folksongs (1985) played by Hanani with Schoenfield and Tocco alternating. I would never have been aware that the pianists changed if I hadn’t been told. That’s an example of the friendly communication here. These, by the way, are not just transcriptions but pieces based on the basic melodies. Don’t try to sing along; it won’t work.

Peccadilloes (1997) is a suite of six piano pieces based on what the composer calls “bad taste”. It is actually a quite demanding score played to the hilt by Tocco in various styles from Allemande to Boogie. I’m sorry, but my taste is so bad I can’t criticize it. It tastes like the ‘Chocolate Sundae’ to me.

Refractions (2006) is a clarinet trio in four movements, a 24-minute composition of considerable variety and most entertaining subject matter, beautifully played.

Lawson Taitte
The Dallas Morning News, June 2010

American composer Paul Schoenfield was writing eclectic, one might say post-modern, music long before it became cool to do so. He uses pop styles like boogie-woogie but doesn’t shy away from modernist harmonies or deep emotions.

Refractions, a clarinet trio, takes its cues from arias from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. The melody of Dove sono masquerades as a blues lament to crushing effect, and the March movement hilariously mashes allusions to Prokofiev and Mahler together with Non piu andrai.

The piano suite Pecadilloes, played by modernist specialist James Tocco, sassily invites nasty comments about cheesiness. Six British Folk Songs for cello and piano sounds jolly, but in fact it’s a lament for the great Jacqueline du Pre. All the performances are delicious, as is all the music on the disc.

Dan Davis, June 2010

Paul Schoenfield’s music blends accessible modernism with sophisticated wit built on a solid foundation of popular, jazz, and Jewish sources, all of which are in evidence in this splendid recording of his chamber music. The title piece, Refractions, is a trio for piano, clarinet, and cello, its four movements based on music from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. But the work doesn’t follow the familiar pattern of paraphrase and variation; rather, as the title suggests, it’s a convoluted take on the opera’s arias and recitatives, the source references often barely discernible even to knowledgeable opera buffs.

The opening Toccata, for example, is based on the opera’s Overture, which is barely alluded to; what sticks in the mind is a lively Hassidic wedding tune. The March movement, based on “Non piu andrai”, hints at Prokofiev, and the final Tarantella reminds this listener of ragtime and the musical accompaniments to a Charlie Chaplin short as much as it does to “Se vuol bailare”. But such eclecticism is what helps to make the piece so laden with surprises and listening excitement.

Schoenfield exploits the harmonic and timbral possibilities of the instrumental combinations such as the unison clarinet/cello in the opening Toccata, and varies the instrumental spotlight to focus on the clarinet cadenza in the Intermezzo, followed by brief solos by the cello and piano. So if Mozart’s hard to discern here, Schoenfield’s individual voice is welcome compensation.

Peccadilloes refers to Rossini’s title for his late piano pieces, Sins of My Old Age, and the melodies of each of its six movements are inspired by, as Schoenfield writes in the disc’s notes, “what is generally considered bad taste or inferior culture.” He advises listening with “the same sort of guilt and pleasure that accompany one while eating a large chocolate sundae.” But Peccadilleos is a lot more than that—it’s a virtuoso piano work that pays homage to great composers and musicians such as Ravel, Gershwin, and the Harlem stride pianists of the 1920s. James Tucco shines here, playing with technicolor sheen in the Gershwinesque Allemande, whose melody parodies the music of old Hollywood romantic comedies, while conveying the excitement of the galloping rhythms and high spirits of the final movement, Boogie.

The disc opens with Six British Folk Songs for cello and piano, a tribute to Jacqueline du Pré. Cellist Yehuda Hanani’s rich tone sings the familiar melodies fluently, investing Schoenfield’s elaborations on them with soulful poignancy in The Gypsy Laddie and virtuoso dynamism in The Lousy Tailor. This disc is a sheer delight from the first note to the last.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2010

Paul Schoenfield belongs to that growing school of tonal composers giving contemporary works a listener-friendly face, this new disc opening with a tribute to the cellist, Jacqueline du Pré. It is a free adaptation of six folk songs, most not readily recognised even in Britain, and from the basic melody Schoenfield takes his flights of fantasy. The following six Peccadilloes for solo piano is described by the composer ‘as pieces to enjoy with the same guilt we have while eating a large chocolate sundae’. Naughty but nice, we have a Fugue that gets itself into a state of turmoil; a saucy Rag that leads into a glittering waltz and a soft-shoe shuffle. Finally a hectic Boogie to provide the pianist with some outgoing brilliance. The last work, Refractions, is the splitting up into its various colours, in this case it is musical colours. It is scored for clarinet, cello and piano trio, again using long-established formats of a Toccata, March, Intermezzo and Tarantella, Completed in 2006, and in time for the composer’s Sixtieth birthday, there is somewhere deeply embedded in the score music from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, but it too has seemingly passed through the process of refraction. As the composer was involved in the recording—returning to the days when he was a performing pianist—I will take these as benchmark performances. They certainly seem to be the product of happy recording sessions with top ranking performers, and the sound quality is admirable.

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