April 1, 2009
Canada has produced a vibrant cohort of clarinettists who specialize in new music; a short list should include Robert W. Stevenson, Lori Freedman, James Campbell, Joaquim Valdepenas, André Moisan, Jean-Guy Boisvert and François Houle - the featured soloist on this recent disc bu the Turning Point Ensemble, conducted by Owen Underhill.
First up is Vancouver composer John Korsrud's Liquid. Houle's virtuosic technique is highlighted throughout, from the opening highly rhytmic figuration, which gradually disperses into a more fragmented ensemble texture. It resembles a concerto grosso, with an extended slow section featuring a sparsely-accompanied solo clarinet - replete with the seemingly obligatory multiphonics - gradually returning to the opening rhytmic figurations.
Next is Schrift, by Quebec composer Yannick Plamondon. The liner notes inform us that Plamondon, like Eric Satie, has placed enigmatic texts throughout the score, such as ''The mechanistic noise of a language that seeks itself.'' Plamondon's inventive use of percussion sounded ''mechanistic'' I suppose, but the piece ended before I finished puzzling over that one.
The third work on the disc - Concerto - features Houle as both soloist and composer. The title is in keeping with the original 18th-century convention of an opening section, or ritornello, introducing the soloist. Life Korsrud's piece, Concerto is a three-part single movement: al slow meditative section framed by more vigorous opening and closing movements.
Kya (1959) by Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, is the earliest work on the disc, and one of the most intriguing, using texture and timbre as compositional determinants. Scelsi, an Italian aristocrat, lived in Rome, yet the piece seems more acquainted with John Cage, Harry Partch, Indian or even Nepalese classical music than the stylistic tendencies of Scelsi's European contemporaries.
Overall, the sound is crisp, clean, and well-engineered. Underhill has done well guiding the Turning Point Ensemble - a highly skilled group of players on a par with Houle's yirtuosity - through some very complex instrumental textures.
Tim Buell - The Wholenote magazine