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Audio CD, August 1, 2014
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I just listened to the recording and it's astounding! ... Jonathan Cohler brings to the music the most unusual combination of dramatic power, dazzling virtuosity and exquisite intimacy. And Rasa Vitkauskaite is the perfect partner to tie together all of these elements into a meaningful whole. I cannot imagine a more thoughtful rendering of Liquid Ebony. --Dana Wilson
Jonathan Cohler and pianist Rasa Vitkauskaite do a remarkable rendition of my pieces as well as the ones by the other distinguished American composers on the project. This is a CD every clarinetist should have in their collection!
Jonathan Cohler is one of my favorite clarinetists on the contemporary scene. So much so that when a few years ago I was asked to play the complicated clarinet part of Oliver Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, I not only used Jonathan's great recording of the famous work as a reference, but also paid Jonathan a visit for personal advice. --Paquito D'Rivera
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This recital neatly bisects into a trio of mainstream 20th-century compositions and a group of more recent, ethnically flavored works. Bernstein’s early sonata has become a clarinet repertoire staple; Jonathan Cohler’s and Rasa Vitkauskaite’s reading is a little fast in its first movement but fluent, with an easily flowing 5/8 meter in the second movement. Victor Babin is best known as half of the duo-piano team of Vronsky and Babin, but shows himself in the 1947 Hillandale Waltzes to be an able composer as well. The Waltzes are actually a set of character variations on a theme from a four-hand piano work by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. The nine variations show a great deal of, well, variety, and require considerable technical prowess on the part of the clarinetist. Robert Muczynski’s Time Pieces, written in 1984, are conservative, jazzy, and well crafted.
The remainder of the program consists of music written in the last 20 years. It’s all pretty tame stuff, however—none of what in my wind quintet days we used to call bleep-squawk music. Simon Sargon’s KlezMusik, written in 1995 and dedicated to Jonathan Cohler, calls for great flexibility; it is, literally, tailor-made for Cohler’s supple sound and formidable technique. Dana Wilson’s 2003 Liquid Ebony is similarly ethnic, reflecting not only klezmer tradition but more general Eastern-European folk music as well. It calls for such “extended techniques” as glissandos and flutter-tonguing. The works by Paquito D’Rivera show the dual influences of Latin music and jazz; Cohler tosses off the jazzy flourishes of Invitación al Danzón with seemingly casual ease.
Indeed, throughout the recital Cohler displays a complete command of his instrument and of the various musical languages called for here. One never feels a sense of strain, either in his finger technique or in his sound. Further, he plays with a real sense of style, whether in the klezmer licks of the Sargon and Wilson or the jazzy ones of the Bernstein and D’Rivera. Few classical artists are as much at home in all these musical worlds, but Cohler seems to revel in them.
Production, as usual for Ongaku, is exemplary: The booklet essays by the performers are highly informative, and the recorded sound is ideal. This is one of the best clarinet CDs to come along in some time. Highly recommended!