Wesley Ferreira, Crack Colorado Clarinetist, Debuts On Disc

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

This enterprising, well-put-together recital features a worthwhile collection of contemporary clarinet music played to a fare-thee-well by Colorado State professor Wesley Ferreira, pianist Gail Novak, the Colorado State University Wind Ensemble, and a few other guests. Not all of the music likely will engage your attention equally–it didn’t mine–but that’s in the nature of such things. Ferreira is a terrific soloist, with a warm timbre that never turns screechy even when the music really gets screaming. His agility in rapid passages is matched by his comfort with “advanced” playing techniques: harmonics in the Arietta of Aleksandar Obradovic’s Mikro-Sonata; some notably smooth flutter-tonguing, particularly at softer dynamic levels (trust me, it’s not easy to control); glissandos, and the like.

The program starts with Nick DiBerardino’s three-and-a-half-minute Madison Avenue, a jazzy tribute to the eponymous Manhattan street. Next up comes Without Further Ado II for two clarinets and piano (Copper Ferreira, presumably the principal soloist’s wife, on second clarinet), written by Canadian composer Alasdair MacLean. It’s a merry dialog between the two wind instruments, punctuated by enthusiastic eruptions from the keyboard. The Obradovic is one of those third-rate squeak-bloop things that could have emerged from any conservatory in the 1970s–I heard tons of this stuff and my own clarinet teacher played a good bit of it, but fortunately the Mikro-Sonata lives up to its name and it’s over and done with pretty quickly.

Nikola Resanovic’s Clarinet Sonata, 10 minutes in four linked movements, has silly titles for each (I won’t quote them), but unlike so many contemporary works of this type the composer seems to have put as much thought into the music as he did the verbal descriptions, so all is forgiven. The piece is a charmer. Roberto Cognazzo’s Rotazione tre for clarinet, bass clarinet, and piano is an inventive fantasy on themes by Nino Rota. If you know La Strada, you’ll recognize bits of it here, along with several other naggingly familiar tunes. It’s great fun. In Dissonant Grooves, for solo clarinet, Jeff Lambert takes atonal melodic lines but presents them in familiar rhythmic shapes–“accessible to the average listener”, as the composer puts it. This begs the question of why the melodies themselves, and the harmonies they suggest, need to be “inaccessible”, but then again I was reviewing recordings of Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron recently and he does exactly the same thing in the Golden Calf scene, so Lambert’s in good company.

The biggest piece, Auto ’66, is a mini-concerto for clarinet and wind ensemble, with each movement inspired by the make and nationality of a car: a Lamborghini Miura, a Mini Cooper S, and a Pontiac GTO. The conceit works delightfully well as a subject for musical depiction, with the movements including, respectively, a tarantella, bits of Holst’s band suites and Mercury from The Planets, and American pop music. The ensemble, under the baton of Christopher Nicholas, plays very, very well indeed.

So this disc is a showcase in many respects: of an excellent clarinetist, his colleagues, and of seven contemporary composers. The packaging and presentation are attractively done, save for the fact that no one tells you up front the forces required for each piece. My only other quibble is that, perhaps unsurprisingly, Ferreira is miked much too closely. One should never, ever, hear clicking valves, breathing, or air passing through the instrument (perhaps unavoidable with harmonics, but annoying just the same). Fortunately he withstands the scrutiny. That issue aside, this is as well put-together a contemporary music recital as has come my way in a long time.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

Works by DiBerardino, MacLean, Obradovic, Resanovic, Cognazzo, Lambert, and David

  • Wesley Ferreira (clarinet); Copper Ferreira (clarinet and bass clarinet); Gail Novak (piano)
  • Colorado State University Wind Ensemble, Christopher Nicholas (cond.)

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