Noa Wildschut (violin), Pablo Barragán (Clarinet) & Amadeus Wiesensee (Piano) - Programme Notes

Noa Wildschut (violin), Pablo Barragán (Clarinet)    & Amadeus Wiesensee (Piano)   - Programme Notes
Music Network presents violinist and former ECHO Rising Star Noa Wildschut with clarinettist Pablo Barragán and pianist Amadeus Wiesensee on tour from 1 - 9 March.

Emer Nestor takes a look at the programme for March's tour with an additional note on our new Music Network commission from composer Amy Rooney.

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921)

Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in E-flat major, Op. 167

I. Allegretto 
II. Allegro animato 
III. Lento 
IV. Molto allegro 

Music is something besides a source of sensuous pleasure and keen emotion, and this resource, precious as it is, is only a chance corner in the wide realm of musical art. He who does not get absolute pleasure from a simple series of well-constructed chords, beautiful only in their arrangement, is not really fond of music.

- Saint-Saëns, Ecole buissonnière: notes et souvenirs (Paris, 1913)

Camille Saint-Saëns, one of the leaders of the French musical renaissance of the late nineteenth century, was a composer whose prodigious talent spanned the realms of orchestral, choral and chamber music. As a virtuosic pianist and organist, he continued to give successful performances in England and America well into his eighties.

Composed in the autumn of 1921, just a few months before Saint-Saëns’ passing, the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in E-flat major, Op. 167 was written to expand the musical repertoire for which hardly any solo parts were written at this time. Dedicated to clarinettist Auguste-Éléonore Périer (a professor at the Conservatoire de Paris), the work is an intimate conversation that unfolds in four movements over poignant, classical lines and haunting melodic structures

The first movement opens with a lyrical clarinet melody that dances effortlessly above refined, trilling accompaniment figures in the piano line. The communication between the instruments is characterised by a graceful ebb and flow, creating a sense of yearning and nostalgia. A lyrical-pastoral melody gives way to a virtuosic middle section before its delicate return to conclude the movement.

The second movement introduces a more spirited ambience. The clarinet and piano engage in a playful exchange of motifs with rhythmic vitality. Throughout the movement, Saint-Saëns skilfully weaves intricate counterpoint, enhancing the depth and complexity of the musical conversation, while showcasing the clarinet’s unique twelfth intervals.

A reflective and melancholic dalliance unfolds between the clarinet and piano throughout the third movement, as both instruments match in lower-register sonority in this chorale-like opening, before rising piano arpeggios lead to moments of sublime emotional expression. The clarinet's eloquent lines are complemented by the piano's rich harmonies, creating a sincere and introspective atmosphere.

Playful runs and arpeggios punctuate the opening of the final movement, in a vibrant interplay of technical brilliance. The opening theme of the first movement returns to elegantly pirouette the sonata to its lyrical close.

Saint-Saëns' Sonata for Clarinet and Piano not only showcases the composer's melodic ingenuity but also reveals his mastery in balancing the timbral qualities of both instruments. The work is a testament to his ability to navigate the ethereal balance between form and emotion, tradition and innovation.

Béla Bartók (1881–1945)

Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano, Sz. 111, BB 116

I. Verbunkos (Recruiting Dance)
II. Pihenő (Relaxation)
III. Sebes (Fast Dance)

Hungarian-born composer, ethnomusicologist, pianist and teacher Béla Bartók transcended traditional boundaries and embarked on a journey to explore the rich tapestry of folk traditions, melding them seamlessly with his unique compositional voice. Acknowledged as one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, Bartók contributed to establishing the foundations for the study of comparative musical folklore in Hungary and published several important studies of Hungarian and Romanian folk music.

The impetus to write Contrasts came from Bartok’s compatriot Joseph Szigeti in 1938, who had emigrated to the United States and befriended the ‘King of Swing’, clarinettist Benny Goodman. The idea of writing for a jazz musician did not appeal to Bartók at first, but after meeting with Goodman and familiarising himself with the American’s work, a first draft was written entitled Rhapsody. Cast in the traditional two-movement model, the work was premiered at Carnegie Hall in January 1939 by Szigeti, Goodman and pianist Endre Petri. A year later, during Bartók’s relocation to America, due to his uneasiness about Hungary’s alliance with the Third Reich, the composition returned, but this time Bartók played the piano part and a new slow movement, Pihenő, was inserted between the original first and second sections. It was renamed Contrasts and recorded by the trio under the Columbia Records label in May 1940.

One of the jewels of his chamber music repertoire, the work’s title aptly reflects the piece's dynamic interplay of styles, textures and tonal colours. Contrasts comprises three movements, each a miniature masterpiece in its own right. The first and final movements feature cadenzas to highlight the virtuosity of the clarinet and violin respectively, which prompted a critic for the New York Times to say that Bartók ‘spared neither the fingers nor ears nor lips of the performers’.

The first movement, Verbunkos (Recruiting Dance), evokes the type of dance that was employed by officers of the imperial army who visited Hungarian villages to attract recruits in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Opening with a captivating clarinet cadenza, its folk-like character draws inspiration from Hungarian dance traditions. As the violin and piano join the conversation, the movement unfolds as a spirited discourse, featuring rhythmic animation and infectious energy.

The second movement, Pihenő (Relaxation), provides a stark contrast to the momentum of Verbunkos. Here, Bartók delves into the realm of nocturnal serenity, with the clarinet and violin engaging in a contemplative interchange of melodic fragments. The piano, often acting as a shimmering backdrop, enhances the dreamlike atmosphere.

The final movement, Sebes (Fast Dance), is a tour de force of virtuosity and rhythmic intricacy. An additional layer of complexity is infused into the score in its requirement of the clarinettist to switch from a clarinet in A to a B flat instrument for the opening and closing sections. The violin must also be returned to G sharp, D and E flat. Drawing inspiration from Eastern European folk dances, this movement bursts forth with relentless energy and intricate polyrhythms. The violin, clarinet and piano participate in a dazzling display of technical prowess, bringing the work to a gripping and exhilarating conclusion.

Contrasts not only showcases Bartók's fascination with folk music and his innate understanding of the genre, but also highlights his inimitable facility to seamlessly integrate diverse influences into a cohesive and compelling musical narrative. The work epitomises the composer's avant-garde vision, blending elements of tradition with a contemporary and exploratory spirit.

Amy Rooney (b. 1983)


Music Network Commission 

The title of the piece, Cascade, refers to the process whereby something is successfully passed on. In this instance, it is the passing of musical ideas, where lines ebb and flow around each other. The central focus of these exchanges is the interval of a minor 2nd, with ideas emerging and developing from this to various degrees over the course of the piece. These unfold as a response to what is happening in other musical lines, with the three instruments very much intertwined and interacting.

The work falls broadly into two sections.  In the first, the music gradually gathers momentum, much like a cascading waterfall. There is a strong sense of forward motion, with dynamic exchanges between parts. This is in stark contrast to the second passage, where the intensity of movement is slowed. A more contemplative series of interactions between instruments focuses on extended and sustained treatment of the musical material.

-Amy Rooney

Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)

Violin Sonata No. 2 in G Major, M. 77

I. Allegretto
II. Blues: Moderato (A-flat major)
III. Perpetuum mobile: Allegro

Maurice Ravel, a luminary of French Impressionism and one of the twentieth century's most visionary and sophisticated composers, left an indelible mark on the world of classical music.

The aftermath of World War I, coupled with the death of his mother, marked a period of personal and musical uncertainty for Ravel. His last chamber work, the Violin Sonata No. 2 in G Major, was written over a four-year period 1923–1927, and is a work of exquisite craftsmanship. The prevailing sense of dissonance throughout the composition echoes Ravel’s belief that the violin and piano are essentially incompatible instruments. Conflict abounds through passages which explore their contrasting tonalities. In three movements, Ravel unfolds a captivating musical narrative that showcases his penchant for rich harmonies, vivid orchestrations, and evocative melodies.

The first movement opens with a 6-bar melody in the piano leading to a silky violin expression of enchanting simplicity, above an angular piano figuration with snappy pizzicato phrases. The tension unfolds with a sense of mystery and nostalgia, presenting a dialogue between the violin and piano that is both sophisticated and intimate.

The second movement embodies the post-war fascination with American jazz of the roaring twenties. Evoking the sultry atmosphere of a smoky club, the movement features syncopated rhythms, bent notes and jazzy inflections. The violin and piano take part in a rhythmic dance, exploring the evocative possibilities of this new and vibrant musical language.

A dazzling accomplishment of virtuosity and perpetual motion, the final movement illustrates Ravel’s technical expertise and rhythmic ingenuity, creating a whirlwind of excitement that propels the work to its exciting conclusion.

Ravel's Violin Sonata No. 2 exemplifies the composer's ability to navigate the delicate balance between tradition and modernity. While paying homage to classical forms, the work is imbued with a distinctive French elegance and a forward-looking spirit that anticipates the musical landscape of the 20th century.

Paul Schoenfield (b. 1947)

Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
I. Freylakh
II. March
III. Nigun
IV. Kozatske

Paul Schoenfield, an American composer known for his diverse musical language and vibrant creativity, has left an indelible mark on contemporary chamber music. His Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano is a testament to his unique ability to fuse classical forms with elements of jazz, folk, and klezmer (a musical tradition of the Yiddish-speaking Jews from Eastern Europe), creating a work that is both exuberant and introspective.

In 1986, clarinettist David Shifrin asked Schoenfield to compose a chamber work for violin, clarinet and piano, but the project did not begin until 1990. The Trio realised the composer’s ‘long-standing desire to create entertaining music that could be played at Chassidic gatherings as well as in the concert hall’. The work draws upon Schoenfield’s Jewish heritage, with each movement alluding to an East European Chassidic melody. These tunes were frequently composed by the holy men (kzadikim) of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but in many instances they appear to have been borrowed from regional folk songs, Cossack dances and military marches.

The Trio bursts open with the infectious energy of Freylakh — a popular dance from the world of klezmer — featuring lively dance rhythms and spirited exchanges between the clarinet, violin and piano. The music is infused with the celebratory spirit of a traditional Jewish wedding dance, and the performers interact in a roguish dialogue, weaving together complex melodic lines.

A swaggering March follows, still infused with the klezmer flavour, and described by Schoenfield himself as ‘bizarre and somewhat diabolical’. A shift in pace gives way to the starkly contrasting third movement, which offers a meditative and soulful reflection. The clarinet takes centre stage, introducing a moving and expressive melody that is passed between the instruments. Schoenfield's use of modal harmonies and evocative melodic lines creates a contemplative atmosphere, inviting the listener into a world of introspection.

The final movement returns to the lively dance elements of the first with a captivating blend of rhythmic vivacity and melodic inventiveness. The clarinet, violin and piano take part in a joyful and virtuosic conversation, bringing the work to a thrilling and exuberant conclusion.

Schoenfield's Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano is a testament to the composer's ability to seamlessly integrate diverse musical elements into a cohesive and compelling whole. The work showcases his playful approach to rhythm, his melodic ingenuity, and his deep connection to a rich tapestry of musical traditions.