Johanna Beyer’s Woodwind Music

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

The German/American composer Johanna Beyer (1888-1944) is hard to pin down. On one hand, her early electronic work Music of the Spheres, the Movement for Two Pianos, and the two string quartets reflect the energy of experimental composer friends and colleagues like Henry Cowell, Percy Grainger, and Dane Rudhyar. On the other hand, Beyer wrote piano pieces that range from disarmingly simple to meanderingly dissonant. Likewise, her woodwind output resists easy pigeonholing.

Of the Clarinet Sonata’s four rather dry movements, the Allegretto stands out for its petulant climaxes. Likewise, the pleasant, uneventful Four Pieces for Oboe and Bassoon come alive in the rhythmically unpredictable Presto finale. The six pieces for Oboe and Piano sound like lopsided nursery rhymes, as if Virgil Thomson were rewriting Janácek. While I like the conversational quality of the Clarinet and Bassoon Suite’s atonal discourse, the Suite for Bass Clarinet and Piano’s three movements are oddly mismatched: You have a rugged, declamatory first movement, a hazy central movement, and a forgettable tonal conclusion.

The five-minute-long Quintet for Woodwinds wavers between punchy staccato jabs and dissonant long-lined strettos. It’s more successful than the Movement for Woodwinds, which sounds like a series of random, not fully realized sketches that escaped from Erik Satie’s notebooks. The Woodwind Trio’s three brief movements are strong on gesture and weak on melodic point, yet at least they don’t overstay their welcome.

All of the performers on this disc bring impressive finesse, character, and world-class instrumental mastery to each and every selection, and are brilliantly served by vibrant, well-balanced sonics. Oboist and producer Sara Fraker provides extensive scholarly annotations that tell you everything you need to know and more about Beyer’s uneven yet fascinating creative output.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Album Title: Music For Woodwinds
Reference Recording: None for this collection

  • Daniel Linder (piano)
  • Arizona Wind Quintet

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