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The American Chamber Ensemble
Works by Zaimont, Weigl, Hindemith

Judith Lang Zaimont  has always been attracted by, and shown a sensitive ear for, unusual instrumental timbres. In this song cycle, she shows her remarkable ability to achieve a stunning range of tone colors with minimal resources. Some effects are attained by requiring the two instrumentalists to double on the Eskimo drum, the singer to speak, and the clarinetist to play with the mouthpiece attached to the lower half of the clarinet and with the mouthpiece alone. Although the Inupiaq numbers from one to ten are used within the "Counting Song" and the uneven rhythms are suggestive of native chant, musical treatments were not drawn from actual elements of traditional Eskimo song. The title of the work, From the Great Land, comes from the translation of the word "Alaska," which is "the great land." In the past, it is said, when there was hunger in the land, old Eskimo people who could no longer contribute usefully to the family were left on the ice to die. These songs explore this experience through the mind of an abandoned woman.

Among Vally Weigl's better-known compositions is the song cycle, Songs of Remembrance for mezzo-soprano, flute or clarinet, and piano, which she completed in 1953. Using a basically tonal compositional palette, Weigl is amazingly successful in capturing the essential mood and character of each of the Dickinson poems.

Paul Hindemith favors a linear, polyphonic style, in which each voice is clear and independent. He began composing the Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano on a ship headed for America in April 1938, and completed the work on his return to Switzerland in June of that year. Cast in three movements, the first, Mässig bewegt (moderately lively), is spare, linear and highly contrapuntal in texture. It is organized into a traditional sonata-allegro form with three principal subjects, the first of which is heard at the very outset, followed by a lighter, more frolicsome subject introduced by the cello, and finally an agitated outburst in the piano with responses from the others. After working through all this material, the three subjects are brought back for a very free recapitulation.

Sehr langsam (very slow) opens with a highly expressive melody played by the clarinet, supported by interweaving cantabile (singing) lines in the violin and cello and soft punctuations in the piano. In time, this gives way to a faster, louder section with a particularly striking sonority produced by the clarinet and cello playing in octaves. The movement concludes with the reappearance of the opening clarinet melody, this time with a skeletal rhythmic accompaniment. The clarinet melody that begins the final movement, Mässig bewegt is treated in an imitative, contrapuntal manner, similar to that heard in the quartet opening. A faster, jaunty middle section comes before an extremely free reprise of the opening.

-Melvin Berger, Naomi Drucker and Blanche Abram



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