In the Middle of Things: CD

This review was published on: February 27th 2020

Chamber music by Michael Zev Gordon
Julian Bliss, clarinet
Fidelio Trio (violin, cello, piano)

Julian Bliss is one of my favourite modern clarinettists in his recorded work. Never afraid of playing close to the microphone, he offers a warm, grounded sound with flawless technique and judicious musical choices. Just look at the discography page of his website, where the recordings span genres, styles and ensemble formats.

Here he is a featured collaborator rather than top of the bill, a position given to the British composer Michael Zev Gordon, whose works make up the entirety of this disc. Gordon’s musical language is cerebrally postmodern, incorporating a relatable tonality and some subtle dissonance into a delicate, sometimes brittle soundscape. He is worth listening to for anyone who feels that they sometimes get lost in contemporary music, while connoisseurs should find much to enjoy too.

The Fidelio Trio are excellent and Bliss matches them perfectly. The opening Fragments from a Diary features the four players blending and matching expertly over the course of seven movements, each one lasting only a minute or two. The sixth, ‘…You can still catch the echo’, features the indistinguishable passing of melody between clarinet and violin – a real sleight of hand. Bliss also performs Three Short Pieces for Clarinet, a solo work with a title referencing Stravinsky. Some of the melodic intervals and phrases are clearly inspired by the latter’s three clarinet pieces, but with the dynamic level and intensity dialled down somewhat.

Bliss is immaculate. The single-movement A Small Folly, a whispering tone poem featuring the trio again, completes Bliss’s contribution to this worthwhile recording.

Chris Walters

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at Flat 51, Parkview Apartments, 122 Chrisp Street, London, E14 6ET. Email: membership(@) Tel: 01642 769 558

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