Mika Stoltzman / Richard Stoltzman

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Palimpsest Review

by James Manheim

You might not expect much from this release: albums by married partners are surely enjoyable for the players involved, but rarely top-notch. Even for composers as transcription friendly as Bach and Piazzolla, the combination of clarinet and marimba may seem a stretch. Given the partly jazz backgrounds of both Stoltzmans, you might be expecting a jazz album, an area in which new fusion efforts seem likely. Forget all your reservations: this is terrific. The talents of clarinetist Richard Stoltzman are well known, but even his followers may be unaware of the work of marimbist Mika Stoltzman. Her background is in jazz, but here she shows herself an entrancing classical player on an instrument with little tradition. The jazz aspect is well handled: there are hints of jazz throughout, especially in the Mostly Blues pieces by William Thomas McKinley, and in the title work, Palimpsest, by John Zorn, but these are not jazz arrangements as such. The playing of both principals is beautiful, and has the desired X factor of empathy. However, it is the arrangements that really excel. The Stoltzmans keep you guessing, from the striking solo clarinet reduction of the opening Chromatic Fantasia, to the two distinct concepts of Astor Piazzolla's music. Richard Stoltzman offers a heart-piercing rendition of the melody in Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte. The most spectacular aspect is perhaps Mika Stoltzman's imagination in realizing Bach's polyphonic thinking in shimmering textures in the transcription of the great Chaconne, from the Partita No. 2 for solo violin, BWV 1004. Absolutely superb, an unexpected masterpiece.

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