Music for Bass Clarinet and Piano
It is encouraging to see more musicians recording for bass clarinet. It is especially educational and useful to encounter the "standard" repertoire for the instrument. (Readers may be wondering if there is a popular list of works for the instrument - these days the answer is "yes").
Alois Haba, Vaclav Kucera, Ivana Loudova (Czech Republic) and Enrique Raxach (Spand now residing in the Netherlands) are a few of the notable composers of bass clarinet music featured on this CD as well as more recent music. Essentially all works are of a similarly contemporary style.
Michael Davenport and his [daughter] Kimberly are responsible for the bass clarinet website www.new-music.org providing valuable information on bass clarinet recordings, its extensive repertoire, and even a bass clarinet e-groups site where questions may be posted and answered by all bass clarinet enthusiasts. Michael has studied clarinet with Ronald Phillips, William McColl, Mitchell Lurie and John Bruce Yeh. He has so far had an extensive freelance orchestral and jazz career, and is responsible for several commissions and premiered works. Duo partner Kimberly has recently attained a Masters in piano performance at Northwestern University and is currently active as a solo and chamber music performer.
In Alois Haba's Suite for Bass Clarinet & Piano, Op. 100 (1969) Michael's strong use of vibrato is very prominent from the beginning and throughout the rest of the works performed. His earthy tone in the short second movement progresses to a very singing and lyrical style in the Andante cantabile. The atonal dark mood swings of the third movement enhanced by a deep exploration of the extremes of the lower and higher registers is highly contrasted by the Allegro animato - a lively quirky movement demanding technical expertise and a large lung capacity.
Originally composed for Swedish bass clarinettist Tommie Lundberg, fellow country man Rolf Martinsson's Triptyk: Fantasy for bass clarinet & piano, Op. 22 (1989) seems to demonstrate in the Espressivo;Molto tranquillo a very slow, emotional dark theme - rather imitating the dismantling of a madman's mind. The leggiero movement continues in the same vein, more brisk and somewhat hysterial - the madman speaks, at times with somewhat lucid moments. This is a very interesting and disturbing work.
Vaclav Kucera's Metathesis: Music for bass clarinet and piano (1998) was didecated to Michael Davenprot. Kucera has written much for bass clarinet and piano due to his close connection with Czech duo Josef Horak and Emma Kovarnova. This is very similar in style to Haba's music except it is a little more daring with the modern effects such as flutter tongue.
Richard Gibson exploits the bass clarinet further in Seven Pieces for bass clarinet & piano (1994). The movements Ballad, Chanson, Dialogue, Echo-music, Barrel-house, Valse and Afterthoughts display a picturesque contemporary work dispelling any notion that the bass clarinet is not capable of lyricism and is an example of supreme technique combined with a smattering of multiphonics.
Ivana Loudova Air for bass clarinet and piano (1972) - by name and nature as one would need great breath control to perform this successfully. Admittedly is does test the attention span and can be regarded as a "hard listen" - but one's patience is rewarded with a crazy powerful ending. This is contrasted with Enrique Raxach's Chimaera for bass clarinet and stereophonic magnetic tape (1974). This thoroughly interesting work originally written for Dutch bass clarinetist Harry Sparnaay highlights Michael's superb low register and is very typical "computer" music of the 70's.
Michael Davenport is a fine bass clarinetist and Kimberly Davenport is highly adept as a pianist. Michael's tone is consistent across all registers and he is not afraid to use vibrato - a practice not yet as established on bass clarinet as it is in clarinet performance. It is therefore wonderful to hear another style contributing to the evolution of the bass clarinet. I look forward to hearing more recordings from this duo as I feel the potential of their contribution to be invaluable to the ever-growing movement of bass clarinet performance.
- Diana Tolmie