by Walter Simmons
PERSICHETTI: Parable ll. JAN BACH: Laudes. LECLERC: Par Monts et Par Vaux. New York Brass Quintet. CRYSTAL S-210.
PERSICHETTI: Parable lll. Music by R. THOMPSON, W. SCHMIDT, W. G. STILL. Peter Christ, oboe; Crystal Chamber Soloists. CRYSTAL S-321.
In 1965, Vincent Persichetti began his series of Parables, “non-programmatic musical essays about a single, germinal idea.” Now numbering at least twenty, these Parables are essentially spontaneous developmental explorations: studies in musical generation at its purest, unencumbered by any stylistic constraints but those inherent in the structure of the germinal idea itself. Many of the Parables have concentrated on the capacity of a single instrument, e.g., clarinet, guitar, double bass, trombone, trumpet, piccolo, alto saxophone, French horn, among the more unorthodox choices, thereby further concentrating the economy of resource, and, at the same time, providing much-needed repertoire, as challenging musically as it is technically. Yet it must be said that some of the Parables, especially those for unaccompanied monophonic instruments, do not provide very rewarding listening, outside the membership of players of that instrument. This is truer, for example, of the Parable III for oboe solo, despite Christ’s dedicated and adroit attempt to meet its challenge as a study in interpretation, than of the brilliant and vigorous, if severe, Parable II for brass quintet. The New York Brass Quintet offers the second recording of this important and demanding piece to appear in several months. The earlier release, featuring the Dallas Brass Quintet, also on Crystal (S-203), offered a fine performance, but this new rendition provides a measure of solidity and refinement not quite met by the Texans.
The Dallas version of the Persichetti Parable II was part of an attractive and varied program of potential appeal even to those outside brass circles. However, the remainder of the New York recording is rather more austere and monochromatic, though not at all without interest. Jan Bach’s 1971 Laudesinhabits a similar stylistic middle ground to the Persichetti: hard-edged and without melodic warmth, its aural coherence provided by metrical clarity and motivic continuity. Bach, a mid-Western composer in his middle 40’s, has created an ambitious and impressively scored work. Though the slow movement is rather arid, the rhythmic vitality of the outer sections is quite captivating, and the strong performance by the New York players highlights its granitic outlines.
Both the Persichetti and Bach works give this record legitimate and serious, if limited, appeal. Par Monts et Par Vaux, by the contemporary Belgian Michel Leclerc, maintains the tone of relative severity, without providing compensatory musical interest. Consisting of five short movements in a style one might describe as updated Milhaud, it is cleverly scored but trite in gesture, and not worth the effort of enduring it.
The record featuring oboist Peter Christ and friends is another aesthetic plane altogether. Here Persichetti’s five-minute Parable III offers more musical substance than the remainder of the record combined. Schmidt’s two short pieces for spoken voice and oboe manage a creative treatment of this most unpromising combination, but the two settings—one poignant, the other satirical—do not really make a convincing pair.
Randall Thompson’s Suite and William Grant Still’s Miniatures are feather-weight trifles of Americana. The latter are unpretentious folksong arrangements, while the former presumes to an abstraction one dimension removed. Nonetheless, their impact is equally anemic. Sad to say, Christ et al. make a poor showing with these pieces, as their meticulous, delicate approach creates the most prissy, incongruous effect. If they had reached into the spirit of the music and swung with it, they might have uncovered a moment or two of wit that may lurk within.
Sound quality throughout both releases is fine: close up, but realistic; the surfaces are generally pretty good. Withal, Crystal is making a really original contribution with their ever-growing catalog of varied wind music. Despite my criticism, I look forward to their new releases with great interest.
Incidentally, the others of Persichetti’s Parables currently available on records are: IV (for bassoon), IX (for band), and X (for string quartet). Heedless of my complaints, Schwann is quite uncharacteristically chaotic and uninformative in its Persichetti listing, making no effort to clarify for the reader the recorded representation of his music, especially in regard to the Parables and Serenades.