Friday, May 26, 2017

Unusual concertos 21-30: From Baritone saxophone to Clarinet

The concerto for solo instrument(s) and orchestra is one of the most popular genres in classical music. However, I think 95+ % of all concertos have been composed for piano or violin. Previously I have run a series on concertos for less common instruments in this blog, reaching an amazing number of 100 in the end (all these posts were reset to draft end March). I will be summarizing these in ten posts in the course of the year, each covering ten unusual concertos, keeping the sequences the same as in the past.

[21] Baritone saxophone, the lowest-pitched saxophone in common use. Although it has been used in orchestral compositions by the likes of Bartok, Gershwin and Strauss, I am not aware of any baritone saxophone concerto by a famous composer. I do have one on my hard drive though, by Brazilian composer Joelio Santos, subtitled The weeping tree.  It is played by Marcos Cafe and an unnamed orchestra.

[22] Marimba, another one of the tuneful members of the percussion group like the previously discussed vibraphone.The marimba has become a relatively popular concertante instrument in recent decades, with concertos having been composed inter alia by Milhaud, Creaston, Musgrave, Koppel and Rosauro. I have selected the short but beautiful marimba concerto by Akira Miyoshi, played by Evelyn Glennie and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Paul Daniel, taken from an RCA CD.

[23] Sho. This ancient Japanese woodwind instrument consists of 17 bamboo pipes (two of which are silent, but included for aesthetic reasons). Even among Japanese composers, its use in classical music is rare. I have found one concerto, by Toshio Hosokawa. It is titled Cloud and Light, and is performed by Mayumi Miyata and the Munchener Kammerorchester under Alexander Liebreich (taken from an ECM CD).

[24] Organ, the king of instruments. Organ concertos date back to the baroque period (Vivaldi, JS Bach, Handel), and have never gone out of fashion, with composers like CPE Bach, FJ Haydn, Rheinberger, Hindemith and Poulenc as the more famous names. Among the less known but beautiful concertos written for this instrument in the later 20th century are those by Tristan Keuris and Petr Eben. I have opted for the single movement organ concerto by the American composer Howard Hanson, which was composed in 1926. It is played by Joseph Jackson with the Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra under Daniel Spalding, taken from a Naxos CD.

[25] Trombone, one of the orchestra's regular instruments. Concertos for this brass instrument have been relatively rare throughout the centuries - the first one was possibly composed by Wagenseil or Albrechtsberger, whilst during the 19th century only the Rimsky-Korsakov concerto has entered the repertoire. In the 20th century, trombone concertos have been composed by the likes of Aho, Milhaud, Rota, Sandstrom, Larsson, Holmboe, Nyman and Tomasi. I have selected my own favourite, the 1991 concerto by Christopher Rouse. It is played by Joseph Alessi and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop, taken from a BMG CD.

[26] Untuned percussion, basically the collected orchestral "pots and pans", setting it aside from tuned percussion like marimba, xylophone and vibraphone. A late arrival on the concertante scene, the percussionists can still boast concertos by the likes of Milhaud, MacMillan and Schwantner. I have selected the untuned percussion concerto by Richard Rodney Bennett, played by Evelyn Glennie and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Paul Daniel, taken from an RCA CD.

[27] Recorder, an instrument many of us will have played as a child, but long surpassed by the flute in the conventional classical music orchestra. Recorder concertos have been rare since the baroque days, with Malcolm Arnold possibly the most famous name to have contributed to the repertoire.  I have selected the recorder concerto by contemporary Swedish composer Bjoern Lindh, played by Dan Laurin and the Sundsvall Chamber Orchestra under Niklas Willen, taken from a BIS CD.

[28] Hardanger fiddle, a traditional Norwegian variation on the violin, but with eight or nine strings rather than four as on a standard violin, and thinner wood. Most people will be familiar with the sound of this instrument through its extensive use in the soundtrack of the movie Lord of the Rings, where it was used for the theme of the riders of Rohan. Concertos for the instrument are extremely rare - I am only aware of the two by Norwegian composer Geirr Tveitt. I have selected the second concerto from 1965, played by Arvfe Moen Bergset and the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra under Ole Kristian Ruud, taken from a BIS CD.

[29] Duduk, a traditional Armenian woodwind instrument that is used in the Middle East and Central Asia. Its use in Western classical music is predictably rare, although it has featured in several movie soundtracks, including Peter Gabriel's beautiful score for Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. I have found one concerto for duduk and orchestra, composed by Henrik Anassian, and played by Pedro Eustache and the Orquesta Sinfonica de la Juventud Venezolana "Simon BolĂ­var" under Alfredo Rugeles.

[30] Clarinet, which brings us back to one of the more regularly used symphony orchestra concertante instruments. Numerous clarinet concertos have been composed over the centuries, with the best-known examples being those by Mozart, Spohr, Weber, Nielsen and Stravinsky. Less known but well worth checking out are the concertos by Kozeluch, Crusell, and Finzi. For this series, I have selected the 2001 clarinet concerto by Stephan Hartke, titled Landscape with Blues. It is played by Richard Stolzman and the IRIS chamber Orchestra under Michael Stern from a Naxos CD.

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