The father-daughter combination of Michael and Kimberly Davenport seems to have an entrepreneurial spirit in mind when it comes to the bass clarinet; seek out new or undiscovered music, bring it to the public in recording, and then publish it. All of the works on this new CD, with the exception of the Kucera Prague Ritornelles, are available through Alea Publishing.
With a clearly defined channel separation of bass clarinet on the left and piano on the right, the recorded ambiance is a nice balance of intimacy and room warmth. Michael's bass clarinet tone is certainly uniform through all the registers, though perhaps not as harmonically rich as we've come to expect from the bass in live recitals. Most of the lyrical playing is delivered with judicious application of vibrato, tastefully done.
While it is highly unusual to program almost two-thirds of a CD with music from the same composer, the three disparate works of Gabriel may be worth the effort. Written over a 28-year period of time, each piece utilizes different source material and means of formal construction.
The Sonatine (1977) demonstrates Gabriel's use of polyrhythm and metric modulation, with a lyrical chromaticism that tends to be quite romantic at times. The Sonata (1975) is a four-movement work based on Welsh folk songs which can, because of the altissimo register writing and large intervals, sound disjointed. There are, however, many beautiful, reflective moments in this large, 20-minute work. The Sonata for Bass Clarinet Solo (2003) is the one piece of Gabriel's written expressly for Michael Davenport, whereas both the Sonatine and the Sonata were dedicated to Due Boemi (Josef Horak and Emma Kovarnova). This daunting four-movement unaccompanied work, 22 minutes in length and utilizing all five octaves of the bass clarinet's range, sounds every bit as difficult as I'm sure it is. Despite its reliance on standard musical forms of a them and a passacalia, however, this is an overly long and difficult work that will severly tax the audience's patience and might well kill the bass clarinetist. On the whole, Michael does an admirable job in meeting its extreme challenges.
The Kucera Prague Ritornelles clearly relies on the melodic tradition of folk music from Eastern Europe, yet this is nicely dressed up into something else - a serious, and high quality, 20th-century piece for bass clarinet. Like the two earlier Gabriel works, the Prague Ritornelles were also written for Josef Horak; unlike Gabriel's pieces, however, Kucera's work seems more conjunct in its melodic writing and more satisfying in its musical "story line".
Duo Alea closes this CD with excellent renditions of two Rachmaninoff songs, part of a collection of five that Michael has transcribed and published. I must say that I don't think any instrument does "poignancy" any better than the bass clarinet in the upper clarion register, and Michael and Kim do this wistful Rachmaninoff music proud.
I love the performance and publishing venture tie-ins of Duo Alea, and I think they have done the bass clarinet world an important service by bringing these works to our attention. Thank you!- Howard Klug
The Clarinet, Volume 31, Number 3 (June 2004)