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An American Portrait

Photography: Sandy Underwood & Scott L. Huck

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Catalog Number: CPS-8671
Audio Format: Digital Stereo
Playing Time: 57:06
Release Date: 1999

Track Listing & Audio Samples
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Charles Tomlinson Griffes

  Roman Sketches Op. 7
  1. The White Peacock (4:28)
  2. Nightfall (6:12)
The Fountain of the Acqua Paola (3:10)
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  4. Clouds (4:07)
  Amy Beach
  Three Pieces Op. 128
  5. A Peterborough Chipmunk (1:10)
  6. Young Birches (1:52)
  7. A Humming-bird (0:57)
  Lee Hoiby
  8. Narrative Op. 41 (9:06)
  William Grant Still
  Seven Traceries
  9. Cloud Cradles (2:04)
  10. Mystic Pool (2:38)
  11. Muted Laughter (0:47)
  12. Out of the Silence (3:51)
  13. Woven Silver (1:15)
Wailing Dawn (3:38).
  15. A Bit of Wit (0:56)
  David Guion
  16. The Arkansas Traveler (3:31)
  Louis Moreau Gottschalk
  17. The Banjo (4:36)
  George Gershwin
  18. Prelude No. 1 (1:34)


Related Links
Richard Crosby



Turok's Choice - Issue No. 114 - September, 2000 - Paul Turok

Richard Crosby offers a well-played program of American piano music by Griffes (Roman Sketches), Mrs. Beach (Three [Griegish] Pieces) and others.


20th Century Music - by Mark Alburger

Just how many pieces are there for clarinet and contrabass? Certainly a few, if we can judge from the recent Capstone release, Cassandra, with clarinetist Roger Heaton and contrabassist Corrado Canonici (nice alliteration!)

It starts energetically with Chianan Yen's Clone, with a nice vibrant sound coming from both players. The content has something to do with the Fibonacci series and music-as-DNA-codes, the latter recently discussed in the New York Times. But the music doesn't sound scientific; it sounds ecstatic.

Youngmi Ha, on the other hand, has a stiller, neoclassic take By the Blue Shore, where slow and fast passages vary like the weather on an Eastern afternoon. Ji Young Jung strips these notions down to basics in a solo clarinet Garak, that shares, with Blue Shore, a heightened interest in ornamentation.

In Excursions and Diversions, John Gilbert intends the players to "more or less satirize their own virtuosity." A refreshing notion. The beginning has a bit of ridiculous call-and-response à la one of Crumb's Madrigals. The Stravinsky jokiness of "big and little voices" (the clarinet is big in sound, the bass less so) works. There's a Crumbian bravura (ha! hee! huh!) as well to Ronald Mazurek's Maiastra (Magic Bird), but this time in the Davidovsky Synchronisms tradition of an inventive work for bass and electronic tape. Lots of downward glissandi and vibrato. This is followed by the brief, intriguing Anagrams and Aphorisms of William Toutant, where delicate sounds meet in stimulating interplay.

Canonici proves himself in the same league as Bertram Turetzky in Riccardo Santoboni's virtuoso, tutta forze Kaddil. This is followed by the wonderfully weird Night Scenes of Carlos Delgado for clarinets, contrabass, and electronics. Seagulls and sustains, anyone?

The signature piece comes last, Dino Ghezzo's Eyes of Cassandra for clarinets, contrabass, synthesizer, and tape. Ghezzo pulls out all the stops with funny and threatening sounds galore. The cover shot is of the Greek messenger of doom in full scream, and that's it. Whee! Whew!

From this series of confident performances we turn to the very confident composer Andrea Cavallari and his Self-Portrait, also on Capstone. The American-born Cavallari has lived mostly in Europe, and he manifests a European-oriented modernism that apologies for nothing. The performances from his San Felice Contempoensemble are all magnificent (flutist Michele Marasco, pianists Ju-Ping Song and Michele Innocenti, violinist Adelino Hasani, bassist Canonici, sopranos Gerlinde Samann and Charlotte Zeiher, alto Caterina Calvi). We can tick off the influences of Crumb and Varèse (Fantasia per Flauto), Stockhausen (the solo-piano Selfportrait), and Berio (a Magnificat for two sopranos and altos), but it all comes out rather fresh. Canonici sounds as good here in Achrome as he did on the preceding album — a committed performance of a demanding work.

Ritratti is a virtuosic, energetic scuttering and bubbling for flute and piano; Passages thrashes and emotes out for solo violin. Red utilizes Schoenberg's notion of non-repeating orchestrations in each of its eight brief movements — Pierrot ensemble (augmented by percussion, with viola exclusively) to boot. "Red is... Red, Red, Red" has a good beat and you can dance to it (well, not really, but it is strikingly rhythmic). "Anguish" is a perpetual motion overlain with sustains — the title is perfect. "Red is a Song" is a gorgeous vocalise that recalls the vocal/flute duet in Pierre Boulez's Le Marteau sans Maitre.

A third Capstone album, pianist Richard Crosby's American Portrait is virtuosity in a more traditional vein. His Americans are traditional ones, mostly from a broad mid 20th century (teens to the 80's), beginning with the Roman Sketches (1917) of Charles Tomlinson Griffes. These impressionist-romantic pieces ("The White Peacock," "Nightfall," "The Fountain of the Acquo Paola," and "Clouds") are certainly more Debussyan than Respighian, but the arpeggios and arching phrases work in any language.

A scherzo is the order of the day, beginning Three Pieces (1932) by Amy Beach (a.k.a. Mrs. H.H.A....), and that scherzo is "A Peterborough Chipmunk" which scampers altogether programatically. The following "Young Birches" tremolo in the breeze, with the help of a lovely melody. And "The Hummingbird"? Yes, it buzzes around....

In these contexts, the Lee Hoiby Narrative (1983) — by far the latest work on the album, by a space of more than 40 years — is not a stand out, but a blend in, fitting nicely with the overall mood of the album in its tranquility and turbulence.

William Grant Still, always the surprising master, turns in Seven Traceries (1940). Among the standouts are "Muted Laughter," a polytonal chuckling that relates to Heitor Villa-Lobos, and the solemn intonings that seem to anticipate Messiaen "Out of the Silence." "Wailing Dawn" contains tragic wiffs of birdsong. "A Bit of Wit" seriously brightens the day.

You can't keep a good melody down, and David Guion does his bit to keep the folk tune "The Arkansas Traveler" moving. Unlike Percy Grainger, who used to program Guion's version regularly, I've hung around with too many children over the years not to hear this as "I'm Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee." Memorable, with a sting.

Louis Moreau Gotschalk's appealingly rhythmic Banjo (ca. 1855, but not sounding out of place in this 20th-century collection) and the wonderful Prelude No. 1 by George Gershwin round out the festivities.