Kim Ellis

The Music of Copland & McKinley

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Both clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and producer Bob Lord liken the language of William Thomas McKinley's Concerto for two clarinets and orchestra to Hollywood: Stoltzman writes in the booklet that McKinley "has composed a clarinet duo version of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' fabulous choreography," while Lord asserts that it "could be described as DeMille-esque." You may find, however, a strong continuity in place of the sharp contrast Lord describes between the concerto and the Clarinet Duo Book II of McKinley that occupies the center of the program (which despite the album title is much more McKinley than Copland). The pieces for duo alone are much shorter than the concerto movements, ranging from one to three minutes in length, but the clarinet writing is similar. Neither the booklet nor the digital biographies that pop up if a disc is inserted in the computer tell you exactly how this recording came about or how a clarinetist of Stoltzman's fame became attached to Kim Ellis, principal clarinetist of the Southeast Texas Symphony Orchestra. One does learn that the concerto was composed for the pair, and it's easy to see what attracted Stoltzman; his choreographic metaphor is apt. McKinley, somewhat influenced by Stravinsky's neo-classic vein, takes it deeper, modifying the very familiar sound of two harmonizing wind instruments in intriguing ways. His harmonic language is standard, but his sense of instrumental motion is not. Rarely writing music that is either "harmonized" or formally contrapuntal, he conveys a lively sense of the two instrumental parts as individuals. Arguably this is more effective in the stripped-down setting of an unaccompanied clarinet duo than in the concerto, but both are engaging works that any recitalist or presenter should check out. The packaging is optimal among releases that relegate biographical and interpretive material to digital form: you get something extra in the form of scores for McKinley's music. The orchestral backing in the McKinley concerto and in the short Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copland that opens the disc, with Ellis on the solo part, is provided by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra, apparently different from the Slovak Radio Symphony that has appeared on so many albums on the Naxos label. From the evidence here it seems a bit less sharp, although Ellis nicely catches the mixture of Copland styles in the concerto. Recommended for those interested in wind music.

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