The young German musicians in Trio Elego give fine presentations of music by Daniel Schnyder and Mikhail Glinka on their new CD Cosmopolitan. The unusual combination of clarinet, bassoon, and piano provides our ears with a fresh perspective on these two different and very individual composers.
So-called “crossover” between jazz and classical often results in the worst of both worlds: cheesy jazz devoid of the right feel or rhythmic propulsion, and third-rate classical music lacking the sense of nuance and detail that makes it art. Daniel Schnyder’s music is a rare exception. His compositions do not feel like forced attempts to meld disparate styles, but rather the creations of an individual who just happens to be conversant with different idioms. Schnyder seeks to make music that is functional in today’s world rather than re-creating the past or treating composition as a cerebral head-game. While perhaps lacking in the emotional depth of Romanticism, the result is full of energy, spontaneity, and stylistic cohesion.
His five-movement trio Worlds Beyond melds baroque sensibility and forms with the rhythms and wailing melodies of jazz and adds a modern twist—sort of a third-period Erwin Schulhoff for the new millennium. Antonia Lorenz’s exuberant clarinet playing is displayed particularly well on this piece. She milks each phrase with pitch bends, grace notes, and quick flourishes. Lorenz exudes tremendous control in the way her slinky sound bursts into the foreground or recedes into the shadows as the music calls for. While at times her tone is a bit too bright or glassy for my tastes, overall it fits well with Schnyder’s compositional style, and her aggressive improvisatory performance is risk-averse and full of life. Schnyder’s writing is at its best when he finds common ground between his baroque and jazz influences, especially in the precise and aggressive articulations of the third movement (something woodwinds excel at). The first and last movements are particularly on fire in their raw display of energy, and Philipp Zeller’s bassoon cadenza near the end is bad-ass without overdoing it. The second and fourth movements are a bit more juxtapositions between classical and jazz influences, and for my tastes I would have preferred either some all-out soulful blues or full-on lyricism. There were nonetheless some great moments in both movements, and Schnyder’s Worlds Beyond allows room for the sound possibilities of each instrument to shine.
Two of the three works by Glinka on this disc present a side of him not heard enough: his mastery of European Romanticism. Before developing the first incantation of Russian classical music, Glinka traveled throughout Europe and steeped himself in the music of the time. His Trio Pathétique, composed in 1832, reflects the influence of the bel canto operatic style that was all the rage at that time. As such it flows beautifully, and Glinka makes skillful use out of different registers of the clarinet in sweeping melodic lines. Isabel von Bernstorff’s tone on the piano is particularly well suited to this piece, and her playing floats into the air in a way that makes the influence of Italian opera palpable. Glinka has given this unusual instrumentation a generous gift with a piece in this style. The Largo movement works well to highlight both the bassoon and clarinet’s capacity for lyricism, and the final movement speeds to a conclusion in a way that draws out the rhythmic capabilities of the woodwinds. In other moments of the piece I’m less convinced by the instrumentation: the lack of vibrato and the piercing quality of the clarinet’s upper register don’t quite offer up the level of expressive capacity music in this style needs. But the Largo and Allegro con spirito at the end more than make up for these weaknesses.
Trio Elego offers up another rare Glinka treat on this CD: an Allegro moderato movement from an unfinished sonata for viola and piano written when the composer was only 20. The piece works quite well on bassoon (I didn’t even realize it was written for viola until I read the CD booklet). This is Glinka composing squarely in an early Romantic style. Zeller and von Bernstorff lean into each phrase together in just the right way, and their strong rendition helps cast Glinka in the right light—as a highly capable professional who could hold his own with any of his Western European contemporaries.
A final quality to note about this CD is its down-to-earth lack of pretention. Trio Elego simply presents works of one under-represented 19th-century composer and one contemporary composer in a way that lets their music speak for itself. There are no gimmicky tracks, obligatory macbook / electronics piece, or overuse of extended techniques. The packaging is devoid of poorly done minimalist contemporary art, and Trio Elego isn’t afraid to show off some woodwind dorkyness in their photos (and I mean that as a compliment—it sure beats seeing a string player sporting a leather blazer). The liner notes are informative about the music and at the same time accessible and to-the-point. Hopefully we get more CDs like this from young musicians.
Trio Elego, Cosmopolitan (Genuin, 2012) | Buy on Amazon.com
David Pearson is a saxophonist residing in NYC.