Peter Schickele: A Year in the Catskillsby Blair Woodwind Quintet
Those familiar with composer Peter Schickele's P.D.Q. Bach persona may be aware that he wrote original music as well. Less common is knowledge of what it actually sounds like, and less common still an awareness that it's far from unrelated to the P.D.Q. Bach compositions. An added bonus is that as of 2009, at age 74, Schickele was still at it: the opening "A Year in… See more details below
Those familiar with composer Peter Schickele's P.D.Q. Bach persona may be aware that he wrote original music as well. Less common is knowledge of what it actually sounds like, and less common still an awareness that it's far from unrelated to the P.D.Q. Bach compositions. An added bonus is that as of 2009, at age 74, Schickele was still at it: the opening "A Year in the Catskills," composed that year, is a delightfully elegant piece of American neo-classicism. Schickele's essential style has remained recognizable through several decades of tonal fashions, and as heard in these wind-ensemble pieces it's often very funny indeed. Quite like in the P.D.Q. Bach pieces, Schickele relies on a combination of rigorous part-writing and unexpected stylistic shifts. He juxatposes Baroque dances with modern popular ones (a device not unknown in the P.D.Q. Bach recordings), and his ear for amusing musical pictorialisms is keen: sample the three movements of "What Did You Do Today at Jeffrey's House?" for an idea. The third movement of that work, "Then We Did a Carnival with a Haunted House and Dancing Bears," is also notable for its treatment of the blues, a form very rarely convincingly handled in a classical context: Schickele sticks very close to the basic blues harmonic pattern but displaces both rhythm and texture in the added counterpoint in clever ways. His wind writing is rigorous and even difficult enough to tax the Blair Woodwind Quintet at times. The album is full of other pleasures like the three compact, chromatic-impressionist movements of "Gardens" (1968). Highly recommended despite plain sound from a concert hall at Tennessee's Vanderbilt University, with enthusiastic performances from players associated with that institution.
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- Naxos American
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Peter Schickele, better known to many for his satirical character PDQ Bach, is also an interesting composer. On this recording, the Blair Woodwind Quintet chose him to compose a new work as part of the Blair Commissioning Project, and the five movement work “A Year In The Catskills” is the result. The first movement (“Spring: Fantasy”) is rather pastoral and evocative of an early morning in the mountains. Schickele’s backgrouns as a bassoonist makes him a solid choice for a work for this ensemble, as he understands the need to blend the various instruments while allowing each to play off of the other. This first movement sets the positive tone for the rest of the piece. The second movement (“Summer: Imitations”) is essentially a series of canons that provide a pleasant imitative texture. The third movement (“Fall: Variations”) is based on a bass line from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, while the fourth movement provides an opportunity for the Oboe and Clarinet to shine. The last movement (“Finale: Fast Driving”) is a rather jazzy affair that brings the piece to a light-hearted close. About the other works on the recording: “Gardens” has a rather somber and unusual feel, particularly given the fact that it is for oboe and piano; “What Did You Do Today At Jeffrey’s House?” has a jazzy somewhat Vince Guaraldi-like feel (with some boogie-woogie in the 3rd movement!), and is intended to be a series of memory pieces from the composer’s experience with a childhood friend; “Dream Dances” contrasts various Baroque dance melodies with more modern dances; and finally, “Diversions” is evocative of some of the daily diversions in our lives today, namely “Bath”, “Billiards”, and “Bar” – the names of each of the three movements. The liner notes are in extremely small print, but provide some decent background on the various pieces, the composer, and the performers. Overall, this is a pleasing disc and I’m pleased to have it in my collection..