Since 1981, David Shifrin, former principal clarinet of the Cleveland Orchestra, has served as artistic director of Chamber Music Northwest, the Oregon organization that commissioned these works by three well-established American composers.
In Spring Forward (2014) by Peter Schickele (aka P.D.Q. Bach), Shifrin performs with the Miró Quartet. The 22-minute, five-movement piece, typical of Schickele’s gently rocking, listener-friendly charm, evokes warm memories of springs past, including A Perfect Picnic (the last movement), fondly recalled by Schickele as one he shared with his wife at sunset by the Hudson River.
Richard Danielpour’s 18-minute Clarinet Quintet (2015) is subtitled The Last Jew in Hamadan. Danielpour’s father was born in Hamadan, the Iranian city traditionally known as the burial place of the biblical Queen Esther. Danielpour writes that the first movement, Agitato, con energia, with its bouncy mix of klezmer and the Middle East, derives from vivid childhood memories of visiting Iran with his parents. The following Adagietto e triste is a meditative lament for Iran’s mostly vanished Jewish community under the ayatollahs. Shifrin is joined by the Dover Quartet, recent performers at Toronto Summer Music.
Finally, Shifrin and the Jasper Quartet perform the 18-minute Perpetual Chaconne (2012) by Aaron Jay Kernis. Kernis writes that the piece “maps an emotional journey from mournful lyricism to increasingly abstract, harsh gestures and back.” It’s all rather bleak, lacking Kernis’ usual tendency to sentimentality. A bit of sentiment would have helped, much as it enhanced the pieces by Schickele and Danielpour.