Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Roadshow: chamber music by American composer Carl Schimmel

Carl Schimmel - Roadshow
Carl Schimmel chamber music; New Focus Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 30 2017
Star rating: 3.5

A portrait of American composer Carl Schimmel headlined by some works notable for their vivid energy and colour

This disc of music by the contemporary American composer Carl Schimmel from New Focus recordings intrigues from the outset with its quirky titles, Roadshow for Otto, Roadshow for Thora, Four Nocturnes from "The Oblivion Ha-Ha", String Quartet No. 2 "Six Faces" and The Pismirist's Congeries. These chamber pieces are played by a mixed line-up of performers, Alex Sopp (flute), Romie de Guise-Langlois (clarinet), Sumire Kudo (cello), Steven Beck (piano), SOLI Chamber Ensemble (Stephanie Key, clarinet, Eran Torgul violin, David Molelnauer, cello, Carolyn True, piano), Lucy Shelton (soprano), Da Capo Chamber Players (Patricia Spencer, flute, Meighan Stoops, clarinet, Curtis Macomber, violin), Andrew Emlianoff, cello, Blair McMillen, piano), Left Coast Chamber Ensemble (Anna Presler, violin, Phyllis Kamrin, violin, Kurt Rohde, viola, Leighton Fong, cello), Sharon Roffman (violin), and Wendy Law (cello).

So who is Carl Schimmel? He is very much a product of the American academic system, having studied at Duke University, Yale School of Music (where his teachers included Ned Rorem), and Cleveland Institute of Music, and he was also a student at the Aspen Festival. Interestingly his bachelor's degree was a B.A. in Mathematics and Music. He is currently Assistant Professor of Composition at Illinois State University. But Schimmel's music is anything but academic, and despite a fondness for structures and constructions, the pieces on this disc are all vividly coloured and often vibrant.


Roadshow for Otto and Roadshow for Thora are a pair of works each written for one of Schimmel's children. The names comes from the PBS television programme Antiques Roadshow, and in each piece Schimmel takes a group of toys which featured on the programme and imagined them in use. the first work is written for flute, clarinet, cello and piano, whilst the second is for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Each consists of five short movements, and in style the music is cartoonish in the sense that it is quick, vivid, highly coloured and constantly changing, with a sense of heightened emotions, but the music itself is not cartoonish at all. It is quite strong in character, definitely not simplistic or purely tonal. Despite Schimmel's fondness for references and complex construction, what comes over is the sheer vivid energy.

Four Nocturnes from "The Oblivion Ha-Ha" is a setting of four poems by James Tate, from his 1970 collection The Oblivion Ha-Ha. The style of the text is perhaps American Surrealism, with a range of images in stream of consciousness. Schimmel has set the pieces for soprano and Pierrot Ensemble (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano), and in fact the influence of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire seems to loom quite large, the other influence seemed to be British music theatre pieces from the 1960s and 1970s (the era of Eight Songs for a Mad King). The writing for the soprano really taxes Lucy Shelton and I have to confess that I did not always think that Schimmel's writing here manages to shake off the influences and create a sense of his own voice.

String Quartet No.2 "Six Faces" is a six movement work inspired by six Cubist paintings, by Georges Braques, Pablo Picasso, Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris, Jean Metzinger and Fernand Leger, complex portraits which Schimmel evokes in the six movements. There is very much a change of mood here, the work is intense and serious with some rather dense moments, whilst at other times the textures thin out to a single line. But though serious, the piece has the changeableness of mood of the earlier works, it is just that the moods are darker here. And it is very much a quartet, with a great feeling (almost dialectic) of four intersecting lines. And we finish with music whose vividness of drama verges on the violent.

The title of the final work on the disc The Pismirist's Congeries requires explanation. A 'pismirist' is a person who collects small or insignificant things, and here we have a congerie (collection) of small things. Each movement has an exotic title, Confanon, Orrery, Anacampserote, Zufolo, Chirogymnast, Pilliwinks, Thymiaterion, Daedalum, Smalti, luckily Schimmel's booklet note provides explanations! The work is similar in style to the opening two works, vivid, highly coloured, changeable, yet there is a much stronger edge to the harmony, with jagged outlines and stabbing rhythms alongside the quieter more lyrical movements; short vivid descriptions, with a very Stravinskian finale. The work was written for the flautist Kei Hirayama and it does indeed showcase the flute (here the excellent Alex Sopp.

The recordings span quite a time period, and some are perhaps a little dry and studio bound, but there is no denying the performers commitment to the music. This makes an excellent introduction to Carl Schimmel's music, and a number of the pieces on the disc intrigue. Schimmel succeeds in entertaining with music which has a surprising depth, and great vividness.

Carl Schimmell - Roadshow for Otto (1)
Carl Schimmell - Roadshow for Thora (2)
Carl Schimmell - Four Nocturnes from "The Oblivion Ha-Ha" (3)
Carl Schimmell - String Quartet No. 2 "Six Faces" (4)
Carl Schimmell - The Pismirist's Congeries. (5)
Alex Sopp (flute) (1,5)
Romie de Guise-Langlois (clarinet) (1)
Sumire Kudo (cello) (1)
Steven Beck (piano) (1,5)
SOLI Chamber Ensemble (Stephanie Key, clarinet, Eran Torgul violin, David Molelnauer, cello, Carolyn True, piano) (2)
Lucy Shelton (soprano) (3)
Da Capo Chamber Players (Patricia Spencer, flute, Meighan Stoops, clarinet, Curtis Macomber, violin), Andrew Emlianoff, cello, Blair McMillen, piano) (3)
Left Coast Chamber Ensemble (Anna Presler, violin, Phyllis Kamrin, violin, Kurt Rohde, viola, Leighton Fong, cello) (4)
Sharon Roffman (violin) (5)
Wendy Law (cello) (5)
Recorded 2015 (1, 2), 2010 (3), 2012 (4), 2014 (5)
NEW FOCUS FCR167 1CD
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:

No comments:

Post a comment

Popular Posts this month