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Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1942)     Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Abby Raymond, clarinetMonica Ohuchi, piano
Leonard Bernstein, 23 and still a student at the Curtis Institute, had just completed a composition class with Paul Hindemith before starting work on his 11-minute, two-movement Clarinet Sonata.
Hindemith’s Clarinet Sonata, from 1939, makes an interesting comparison. Both works favor wit and wistfulness over Romantic ardor, and both composers assigned the piano propulsive accompaniments interspersed with exhilarating bits of trailing, canon-like imitation with the clarinet. And both works involve germinal developments of material laid down at the outset, rather than conventional sonata forms.
You might mistake the first movement of the Bernstein for Hindemith, but not the second movement. Bernstein’s all-American love for jazzy vernacular percolates through its 5/8 meter and crackling syncopations. Foreshadowings of Candide and West Side Story abound. Bernstein was already becoming Bernstein in the Clarinet Sonata, his first published work.
By the way, the East Coast musical world already knew he was a rising star. A couple of music publishers competed for the sonata. The following year, Bernstein fully emerged as a star, with a sensational performance as a last-minute replacement for the ailing Bruno Walter on the podium of the New York Philharmonic.
Side note: In a conducting class at the Tanglewood Festival, Bernstein met a young clarinetist named David Oppenheim, the dedicatee of this sonata. Oppenheim and Bernstein gave the second performance of it together in New York in 1943. Oppenheim went on to be a successful record executive at Columbia Masterworks and dean of the School of the Arts at New York University. In between, he succeeded at a third career, as a television producer. Among his hits: Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, which drew an audience of millions for CBS.
Tom Strini. Historical Sources: leonardbernstein.com, James Reel’s note at allmusic.com, and the Wikipedia articles on the sonata and on David Oppenheim.

Camille Claudel, Into the Fire (2012)     Jake Heggie (b. 1961)

Erica Brookhyser, mezzo soprano
Inés Voglar Belgique, violin Shin-young Kwon, violin
Kenji Bunch, viola Anne Ridlington, cello
Camille Claudel (1864-1943), Auguste Rodin’s muse, protégé and lover, lived as tragic and Romantic a life as any artistic child of 19th century Europe. Today, the French art world recognizes her as a sculptor of great stature; the Camille Claudel Museum opened in 2017, and a room in the Musée Rodin is dedicated to her work.
But in her own time, sexism, family issues, an abortion, and her defiance, daring and ambition as an artist and as a woman added up to “hysteria,” the ginned-up diagnosis for putting away countless women. Claudel – who had become reclusive and reckless after being boxed-in professionally and plunged into poverty — spent the last 30 years of her life in a mental hospital, committed by her mother and her brother (the poet and diplomat Paul Claudel). They kept her there, despite repeated pleas of doctors to let her go.
Jake Heggie, whose opera, Dead Man Walking, made him a classical music star in 2000, became fascinated with Claudel after viewing Bruno Nuytten’s acclaimed 1989 film, Camille Claudel. He saw music/drama potential in this subject right away.
When a granting agency approached him with a commission on behalf of the Alexander Quartet in 2010, he seized opportunity. Heggie settled on the idea of a song cycle about Claudel. He recruited librettist Gene Scheer and acclaimed mezzo Joyce DiDonato for the project and created a cycle of seven theatrical songs that add up to a monodrama.
Scheer’s text imagines conversations between Claudel and seven of her sculptures. He drew inspiration partly from Claudel’s letters to her brother, to Rodin and other parties. Heggie shaped the musical arc around Scheer’s text, a close study of each sculpture, and his knowledge of Claudel’s close friendship with Claude Debussy, who owned a copy of Claudel’s La Valse.  Heggie’s study of Debussy’s string quartet – Opus 10 in G minor – influenced the musical language and atmosphere of Camille Claudel: Into the Fire.
Tom Strini. Source: Elizabeth Malanga’s excellent master’s thesis on the cycle.

Trio No. 1 in D minor, Opus 49    Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Molto allegro e agitato
Andante con moto tranquillo
Scherzo: Leggiero e vivace
Finale: Allegro assai appassionato
Erik Peterson, violin    Anne Ridlington, cello    Monica Ohuchi, piano
In 1838 Mendelssohn, then maximally busy as conductor of the Leipzig Gewa
ndhaus orchestra, found time to write to his colleague Ferdinand Hiller:
“Piano pieces are not exactly the things I write with the greatest pleasure or even with real success, but … a very important part of piano music which I am particularly fond of — trios, quartets, and other things with accompaniment — is quite forgotten now, and I greatly feel the want of something new in that line … and I am thinking of writing a couple of trios.”  Within a year he finished this trio, after making some revisions at Hiller’s suggestion.
Mendelssohn’s close friend and colleague Robert Schumann, who had defined a piano trio as “a fiery player at the piano and two understanding friends who accompany softly” called this “the master trio of today, as in their day were those of Beethoven … and Schubert … The happiest of all are those who have heard it played by its creator.”
The piece remains the most popular of all Mendelssohn’s chamber works.
The first movement is in sonata form. The cello introduces both the main and the second theme, and the violin plays a prominent role in the recapitulation. While providing a brilliant piano part, the composer does not slight the other instruments either here or in the second movement, where violin and cello balance the piano melody.
The scherzo is vintage, hallmark Mendelssohn — a swift, shimmering, evanescent dance that challenges the imagination, agility, and dexterity of all three players. The finale is a powerful piece in minor mode. There is evidence that he reworked the piano part of this movement several times, reflecting the fact that his kibitzing friend Hiller was also a virtuoso pianist.
Craig B. Leman, for the 2009 Chintimini Chamber Music Festival.