Australian born Anthony Burr is an associate professor of performance at the San Diego faculty of the University of California, and has collaborated with notable names such as Laurie Anderson, John Zorn, Alvin Lucier, Jim O’Rourke and Skuli Sverrisson among many others. This compendium of pieces for clarinet takes a while before revealing its strong points, characterized as it is by slight discrepancies in its artistic profoundness. It does constitute a testimony of Burr’s flexible taste and a showcase for his advanced skills.
My disaffection for cars caused a web search to ascertain what a Holden Monaro was prior to tackling Thomas Meadowcroft’s “Monaro Study”, two clarinets paralleled to that vehicle’s engine (recorded with varying equalizations) and sine tones delineating the longest track’s complexion. At times quite evocative — conterminous mechanical drones occasionally recalling a marine wash or a rainfall — the composition ends overstaying its welcome just a tiny bit. The same can’t be said of the impressive “Preghiera Per Un’Ombra” by Giacinto Scelsi, where Burr’s specialist’s consciousness shines. This rendition gives the idea of a complex living organism, certainly sounding less exercise-like than the same composer’s “Tre Pezzi (For E Flat Clarinet)” opening the program. Another excellent discovery for this writer was the somewhat inscrutable “Summer” by Erik Ulman, alternating between gripping melodic shapes and elusive susurrations. John Rodgers “The Magpie” is challenging for the player and pleasant to the audience’s ears but — given the title — expectedly tweeting, so to speak. The final “Dal Niente”, by Helmut Lachenmann, contains sacred and/or despised elements — depending on the belonging “faction” — pertinent to the area of present-day scoring where near-silence, toneless gesturing and different components of human breathing play major roles. However it also features several “shocks”, unkindly stabbing pitches keeping the vigilant on duty.
In an ideal world, one should learn to adapt to a particular instrument’s vocabulary, transporting its jargon into the realms of individual susceptibility (or lack thereof). Hard as we tried, in this case we couldn’t manage to subdue a recurring “brilliantly executed, not transcendentally involving” kind of thought, although the protagonist’s performing qualities remain incontrovertible.