Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr / Walter Verdehr

Double Concertos for Violin & Clarinet: Richard Mills, Stephen Chatman, Paul Chihara, Thomas Christian David

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This Crystal release is part of a substantial series (it's the 23rd volume) entitled "The Making of a Medium," the medium being music for the combination of violin and clarinet. That has historically been a fairly rare grouping, but the repertory has grown substantially thanks to the efforts of violinist Walter Verdehr and clarinetist Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr, the pair heard here. They've commissioned a large number of works, including all four of those -- three concertos and a two-movement sonata -- on this album. The project succeeds both on its own terms and those of general listeners. Clarinet players may be especially interested here, for each of the four composers commissioned has thought out the relationship of violin and clarinet intelligently: the two instruments have a unique ability to inhabit roughly the same spheres of register and texture, but then to diverge sharply from one another. The three concertos allow the violin and clarinet to blend into the generally warm ambience created in the orchestral material, but then to seize the listener's attention with contrasting roles in solo passages. Beyond this technical skill, the music appeals with that warmth itself. Paul Chihara's concerto bears the title Love Music, but actually that title might have been bestowed on any of the three (the sonata of Thomas Christian David, written in 1980, conforms more closely to the modernist diktat of the time). Sample the opening movement of the Richard Mills Duo Concertante, a remarkably sustained gesture of romantic calm that includes 12-tone elements. The 20-minute Concerto for clarinet, violin, and orchestra of composer Stephen Chatman has four movements, each bearing words of Walt Whitman for a title, although there are no texts. It's a joyous, rhapsodic work that lives up to its putative subject matter. All these works receive skillful and committed performances from the Verdehrs and from orchestras hailing from Taipei, Bratislava, and Las Cruces, New Mexico. Sonically the collection hangs together reasonably well too; credit Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr in her role as producer. Recommended.

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