REVIEWS: divine art dda 25138   Mind Music

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THE WHOLE NOTE:
Mind Music: Music related to neurodegenerative conditions began as a fundraiser for Parkinson's UK. It honours musicians or relatives touched by brain diseases: Felix Mendelssohn (stroke); Richard Strauss (late-life depres­sion following influenza); John Adams and Kevin Malone (fathers with Alzheimer's); clarinetists Elizabeth Jordan and Lynsey Marsh (project initiators, who lost parents to Parkinson's Disease).

Yet these readings of clarinet music are upbeat, featuring Jordan, Marsh and conductor Stephen Barlow with the Manchester-based Northern Chamber Orchestra. In Richard Strauss's Sonatina No.1: From an Invalid's Workshop (1943), the wonderfully rich, well-tuned sound of 16 wind players suits the work's melodic lyricism and harmonic suavity perfectly. Mendelssohn composed his short Concert Piece No.1 (1833) for clarinet, basset horn and orchestra in exchange for his clarinetist guests' cooking of Bavarian dumplings and strudel. Here, Marsh and Jordan meld the solo instruments with orchestra into a cheerful, satisfying whole.

Digital delay evokes memory in Kevin Malone's The Last Memory (1996) for clarinet, the composer exploring events and feelings around his father's illness. Composer John Adams honours his clarinetist father's tutelage, American musical roots and final years in the intriguing Gnarly Buttons (clarinet and small orchestra). Agile solos by Jordan, and Stephen Barlow's precise conducting, are complemented by jazz timbres, sampled sounds, and pert banjo or mandolin interjections. Amidst this bundle of surprises, the peaceful opening of the finale, Put Your Loving Arms Around Me , is extraordi­narily calming.
Roger Knox

MUSICWEB:
All proceeds from this collection go to a worthy cause, Parkinson's UK, but this is much more than a merely worthy addition to the recorded repertoire. It is a fine collection of works, admirably performed, and of pieces imaginatively chosen and too rarely performed.

The recording is the follow-up to a concert performed in April 2016 to raise funds for Parkinson's UK. Both soloists had lost a parent to complications of Parkinson's Disease. The connecting thread is degenerative mental illness. Adams' Gnarly Buttons seems to have been the starting point as Elizabeth Jordan was involved at the time in a performance of this piece, inspired by Adams' father, a clarinettist who performed in a local marching band and suffered from Alzheimer's towards the end of his life. The scoring is unusual, including sampled sounds, banjo, mandolin and strings. It is an interesting piece in its variety of inspirations, from Benny Goodman to Protestant hymn tunes and Hoedown, firmly in the tradition of Ives, but with some lovely simple passages. I shall play it often.

Kevin Malone's piece is technically more complex the clarinettist plays into a microphone, which connects to a delay unit repeating each note 12 times through a loudspeaker. The idea is that both player and audience are caught in loops just as the composer's father had been through Alzheimer's. The piece works on several levels, not all of which I have yet explored, but the journey is worthwhile.

Perhaps the highlight is the performance of Strauss' Sonatina for 16 wind instruments, in three movements. The piece was written during the Second World War after a bout of flu and its consequent depression, depths compounded by the destruction of the Munich Court Theatre, something which he described as leaving him without consolation or hope. But the music does not lose itself in gloom, despite dark moments. An interesting feature is the weight given by using a large complement of members of the clarinet family two regular clarinets in B flat and A, a bass clarinet, a clarinet and C and a basset-horn. This is a substantial work here given a thoughtful and characterful performance.

The Mendelssohn which opens the collection is a less substantial work, though very charming, composed in his later years. Apparently, it was written during a visit to Bavaria in return for the clarinettists Heinrich and Carl Baermann providing his favourite meal of Dampfnudel and Rahmstrudel. Not the healthiest combination but a delightful one! The work itself is light and very charming.

Performances throughout impress. Stephen Barlow and the Northern Chamber Orchestra are on excellent form (Lynsey Marsh directs for just the Mendelssohn) and the collection will give enormous pleasure.

Buy it and not just for the good cause. The two discs sell for the price of one.
Michael Wilkinson

THE CHRONICLE:
It's a game of two halves in this approachable programme from Elizabeth Jordan and Lynsey Marsh (clarinets and basset horn, with the Northern Chamber Orchestra and Stephen Barlow). But it's all in a good cause profits go to Parkinson's UK.

The programme features music written and/or performed by people who either suffered from a degenerative disease or lost parents to Alzheimer's or Parkinson's Disease. Both the soloists lost parents to the diseases.

The two halves are because CD1 is more traditional, CD2 modern living composers but the two go together well.

The opening piece is Felix Mendelssohn's Concertpiece No.1 in F major, Op. 113 , written in return for food: at the end of 1832 Mendelssohn was living in Berlin and two Munich musicians promised to bring portions of steamed dumplings and rahmstrudel regional dishes the composer clearly loved but couldn't buy if he would write them a piece. This charming piece was the result.

Mendelssohn died at a young age due to degenerative disease, and the next composer Strauss wrote Sonatina No. 1 in F major during a period of severe influenza and depression.

CD2 is more modern and slightly quirkier: Kevin Malone and John Adams struggled to cope when their fathers both succumbed to Alzheimer's, and the works are serious but also humorous.

Adams' father was an amateur clarinet player who gave Adams lessons on the instrument when he was in school, though the composer never wrote a piece for it until he was 50.

His dad at this stage had Alzheimer's Disease and became obsessed with the clarinet. Once his mother was emptying out a load of laundry into the washing machine, and saw his father had taken the clarinet apart and hid it in the dirty laundry.

Adams' piece is Gnarly Buttons , which includes Hoe-Down (Mad Cow) , written during the mad cow epidemic in the UK, complete with cow effects. Malone's piece uses clarinet and electronica, the latter repeating the notes to try and replicate the trapped-memory world of an Alzheimer's sufferer.
Jeremy Condliffe

PIZZICATO:
Friends of music for woodwinds will be 100% satisfied with an album of 'divine art' entitled "Music related to neurodegenerative conditions" by Mendelssohn (Concert Piece No. 1), Strauss (Sonatina No. 1 for wind instruments), John Adams ('Gnarly Buttons' for clarinet & orchestra) Kevin Malone ('The last memory'). The clarinetists Elizabeth Jordan and Lynsey Marsh brought this project to life after their parents died of Parkinson's disease. Apart from this context, these recordings with the 'Northern Chamber Orchestra' under Stephen Barlow seem to us to be particularly interesting musically. They radiate a great deal of temperament and agility. The Strauss sonata thus becomes a slender and vigorously rejuvenated piece without pathos and without the fatigue that sometimes spreads in this work. The composition of John Adams also inspires, because it compels the listener into the bright, flaming excitement of the musical experience.
Remy Franck