The 20th  century was indisputably a time of great upheaval, tragedy and change. Diversions captures four different musical snapshots from this unique epoch. Francis Poulenc, Bohuslav Martinů, Darius Milhaud and Erwin Schulhoff were all born in the 1890s and embraced writing solo pieces for wind instruments in various incarnations.


 

Diversions offers the listener a wonderful palette of mid-century clarinet music and provides a perspective into this tumultuous time in culture and history.

The album begins with Erwin Schulhoff’s Hot Sonata. Schulhoff, a German Jew in a Czech cultural milieu, was brilliant at drawing on a multitude of styles and influences from his diverse background and surroundings. His Hot Sonata was originally written for alto saxophone in 1930 and was arranged for clarinet in 2014 by Nathan Jones. The piece begins with a ragtime-inspired bass line in the piano that sets up the saucy and smooth clarinet melody, which effortlessly dissolves into cascading triplets. The meandering and casual cool that Zelnick achieves evokes the mood and feeling of a street café in France.Her dramatic flair is especially compelling in the sultry swing of the third movement and sparkling technique in the fourth movement. The clarinet’s timeless sound fits perfectly with Schulhoff’s aesthetic and makes Hot Sonata  just as effective on clarinet as it is on saxophone.


The three other compositions on this disc are staples in any clarinetist’s

repertoire. Zelnick’s performance of Bohuslav Martinů’s Sonatina  (1956)

provides a compelling representation of the elegance and flourish of Les Six  influences combined with forceful Czech melodies.


The Poulenc Sonata  (1962) here displays Zelnick’s crystal-clear tone and

beautifully shaped phrases. The delicate passages of the “Romanza” movement

are navigated with seamless legato and are beautifully

expressive, yet stylistically fitting. The third movement

of the Sonata is delightful, with witty interplay between

clarinet and piano. Zelnick and Velicer perform this    

movement with a spirit that was surely intended by

Poulenc. The album closes with Duo Concertant (1956) by French composer

Darius Milhaud, which according to the liner notes is a “light and energetic romp,

filled with South American, jazz, and French influences.” Zelnick’s vibrant

interpretation is purely expressive and allows the music to come alive. Especially

beautiful is her treatment of the slow section in the middle of the piece. The

plucky character of the beginning is elegantly traded for a sweet and nostalgic

lullaby. Each note is shaped with care and warmth so that Zelnick’s full range

of color effortlessly shines through. The ending is an exciting resolution for the

piece, and indeed, the whole album.


Diversions  is a very enjoyable CD. The recording quality is fantastic and the clarinet and piano are always well balanced. This album’s unique value comes

from not only the engaging performances but also from the presentation of these

pieces together. This thoughtful rendering of these important mid-century clarinet

works would be an excellent addition to any clarinetist’s library.


– Anna Roach

The Clarinet, December 2016