An intriguing 21st century composition

Commissioned and premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Manfred Honeck, the ensemble’s superb Music Director, Jonathan Leshnoff’s  beautiful Double Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon affords PSO principals Michael Rusinek (clarinet) and Nancy Goeres (bassoon) the opportunity to shine as soloists in this gorgeous 20-minute-long, three-movement composition.

Leshnoff’s music is unabashedly accessible. From the onset of the composition the composer establishes a bucolic, dreamy tonal landscape that at once engages the listener with the ebb and flow of its melancholy utterances.

First the bassoon then the clarinet, alternate in a quiet dialogue built on a short melodic motif that is gradually echoed by the orchestra. It is a haunting entrance into the world of this concerto and its composer.

But soon and early in the movement the tranquility of the beginning is briefly interrupted by a climactic outburst from the orchestra, only to soon return to the opening mood of the movement.

Less-than-three minutes in duration the humorous second movement is set to a waltz tempo. The music is elegant, at all times playful, capitalizing on the bassoon’s grumpy lower range, with the clarinet reminding its fellow woodwind brother to stop grumbling, which it does abruptly.

The third movement is all agility and syncopation, giving the soloists a workout in its rapid ascents and descents alone and in tandem. Suddenly the mood changes into a brief cantabile passage for the clarinet to give it center stage. Then the up and down antics of the two solo instruments resume their good-natured competition.

Now it is the bassoon that commands the attention, the way the clarinet did earlier in the movement. The activity increases as does the technical demands on both players, the entire affair careening towards an unpredictably blunt ending.

I am tempted to name this work as one of the most intriguing 21st century compositions this listener has ever encountered, for which huge gratitude is due to Reference Records, to Maestro Manfred Honeck and his Pittsburgh players, to the two superlative soloists – clarinetist Michael Rusinek and bassoonist Nancy Goeres, and most of all to the immensely gifted Jonathan Leshnoff, from whom we beg for more gems like this one.

We entreat the reader to get hold of this wonderful issue, either as a CD or as a download so as to enjoy in addition to the Leshnoff Double Concerto, a noble, bold, exhilarating performance of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Symphony no. 4 in F minor, opus 36.

Honeck drives the impulsiveness of the Russian master’s cri de coeur composition with an uncanny mix of fury and heartbreak, profound pathos and ultimately with a glimmer of the hope that allowed the composer to live through the innumerable vicissitudes that plagued his personal and professional lives.

This recording is already in my short list of BEST OF 2020.

Rafael de Acha – http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com  

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