Richard Stoltzman

Ragomania

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This CD grew from a concert (or a series of them) given by Ohio's Lancaster Festival Orchestra, and the mostly Bolcom program perhaps worked well enough to inspire the participants to turn it into a CD. The performances offer examples of the top-notch playing that can be found around the U.S. at outdoor summer festivals, where hair is let down to an extent that may not occur in more formal venues, and veteran clarinetist Richard Stoltzman seems to be having a fine time in Bolcom's Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, a 1988 work that takes off from Benny Goodman's idiom and classical ambitions. The show is bookended by a pair of Bolcom orchestral pieces, one of them often programmed, Commedia for (almost) eighteenth century orchestra, with its winds-and-strings ensemble, and one inexplicably rare, 1981's Ragomania. Commedia is a madcap work in a pastiche of styles, and it's almost incredible that an academic composer could have gotten away with it in the tight-lipped 1970s. Here it relates to the fundamental diversity of the program, which is centered on classical-jazz fusion. This fusion extends into near-pure jazz, in the form of Clare Fischer's The Duke, Swee'Pea and Me, a nicely arranged medley of Ellington tunes, and to Commedia, with little jazz but with its central tarantella theme; Bolcom and the present musicians both seem to be suggesting that what is known as classical music can draw, and always has drawn, on the popular traditions that surround it. An upbeat program, engagingly performed, and unusually coherent.

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