Effervescent clarinet Richard Stoltzman in a crossover programme 

Benny Goodman was one of the seminal performing artists of the twentieth century. One of the great jazz clarinetists and band leaders, he justifiably was crowned 'the king of swing'. He would present the first jazz concerts at Carnegie Hall and many other temples of western culture. Goodman had a second career as a classicist. He would play Mozart with the legendary Budapest String Quartet and conductors Arturo Toscanini, Eugene Ormandy, and Charles Munch and would revive the clarinet works of Carl Maria von Weber (which he recorded under the baton of Jean Martinon). Bela Bartok, Paul Hindemith, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein composed original scores for Goodman.

Richard Stoltzman is an artist in the Goodman tradition. After first honing his skills as a classical musician in the 1970s and early 1980s with the innovative chamber group Tashi and in numerous orchestral appearances, Stoltzman set his artistic sights on a broader musical terrain. (His incandescent performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto with the Florida Philharmonic under Kenneth Schermerhorn remains etched in the mind's ear.) He has played the works of many contemporary composers including former Florida International University School of Music Director Frederick Kaufman. (He made a superb recording of Kaufman's austere Clarinet Concerto with former FIU orchestral director Carlos Piantini conducting on the MMC label.) A series of historic appearances with Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, George Shearing, and the late Mel Torme firmly established Stoltzman as a crossover artist and a true musical chameleon. On 17 June 2004 at Coral Gables Congregational Church in Coral Gables, Florida, USA, Stoltzman presented a recital that reflected his dual musical personality.

Stoltzman's technical fluency is awesome! From the mellow, dark low register to brilliant instrumental highs, his sound is beautiful -- like musical crystal. His coolly cerebral performance of Bernstein's Clarinet Sonata (1941-2) was perfection itself. Although this is an early Bernstein work, the flowing melodies and propulsive rhythms could have come from the score for West Side Story (which the composer created fifteen years later).

Debussy's impressionistically languid Premier Rhapsodie was filled with warm, burnished tonal sheen and fetching sounds. Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) conjured up the sounds of the French music hall in his Clarinet Sonata of 1962. Poulenc's genius was the unique ability to transform mundane even coarse thematic material into a work of beauty. The Clarinet Sonata is a delightfully ebullient, bouncy score. Stoltzman played this gem with bright, piercing tone and bouncy vivacity. He perfectly evoked the quirky syncopations of the Allegro con Fuoco, tres anime conclusion (with its haunting central episode) -- an effervescent performance! The perfect musical French soufflé!

Stoltzman's son Peter John Stoltzman was his brilliant collaborator. An acclaimed jazz pianist and doctorial candidate in jazz composition at Boston's New England Conservatory, Peter John Stoltzman's keyboard fluency is nothing short of extraordinary! His jazzy syncopation in the Bernstein score and rhythmic freedom in the Poulenc Sonata were impressive. His commanding tone and lightness on the Bosendorfer piano were a total delight. Peter John Stoltzman's own arrangement of excerpts from George Gershwin's operatic masterpiece Porgy and Bess was simply wonderful. Richard Stoltzman played quasi improvisatory riffs in the Prayer section while walking through the audience. The opening It Ain't Necessarily So had the chic languid tones of a hot summer night. The concluding Summertime was wonderfully bluesy -- slow, jazzy and colorful. A brilliantly original arrangement!

In a piano solo, the younger Stoltzman played a hip version of The Duke by jazz great Dave Brubeck (born 1920). Here was stride piano playing of the magnificent variety! Peter John Stoltzman's own composition Lullaby recalled the Americana of Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson (although its point of departure was Brahms's Lullaby). Stoltzman Sr's lyrical phrasing was just what the composer ordered. The witty Traveler (also by Stoltzman Jr) was a dazzling clarinet showpiece not far removed from the atonality of Elliot Carter.

Richard Stoltzman played a luminous version of Brubeck's wonderful Blue Rondo a la Turk -- the ultimate meeting of cool jazz and classical grace. Feast by Richard Stoltzman's Yale classmate Bill Douglas (born 1944) was a terrific musical celebration. A combination of Canadian, Irish, Native American, and African influences, this score is a marvelous musical cornucopia and a tribute to America's multiculturalism. The Stoltzmans played it with dash and brio to spare.

Richard Stoltzman is the kind of musician the world needs in greater numbers. Like cello superstar Yo-Yo Ma and the brilliantly gifted, eclectic violinist Gilles Apap, his repertoire is the musical universe -- a true crossover artist. His recital was a formidable display of instrumental versatility. Richard Stoltzman is a musical treasure!

Copyright © 8 July 2004 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA

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