Schickele: Piano Quintet No 1, Etc / Schickele, Audubon
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Does the name Peter Schickele ring a bell? How about PDQ Bach? Well, PDQB is PS in disguise--and he's the host of PRI's "Schickele Mix" radio program as well. If you're not familiar with Schickele's serious music, you're in for a real treat. American Dreams is truly charming: fans of Sony's Appalachian series with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer will find a lot to love here. Anyone who has listened to Schickele's radio show knows that he is a musical omnivore--and his music crisscrosses genres as well. The Quartet No. 1's first movement begins with what Schickele himself says is a vaguely Appalachian-sounding melody for the viola, presently shifting into an extended bluesy pizzicato cello solo that's framed by a whisper from the other strings. "Four Studies", within the First quartet, is similar in spirit; it's quartet writing by way of Stéphane Grappelli. The writing is definitely evocative: consider the sweet birdsong of the First quartet's "Music at Dawn", or the Dvorák-like "By the Ashokan" from the Fifth quartet.
The same easygoing, abundantly sonorous approach threads through the Piano Quintet, for which the composer joins the Audubons at the keyboard. The solo writing of the quintet's "Elegy" brings to mind the stride piano of James P. Johnson and others. Similarly, other great American musical traditions bubble to the surface of Schickele's work, as with the Fifth quartet's "Three Fiddles", which celebrates the nation's folk music. The bittersweet "At John Burroughs' Grave in Roxbury", also from the Fifth quartet, easily could have been written in the 1940s rather than the 1990s--and certainly some listeners will find fault in Schickele's unashamedly anachronistic writing style.
So, is Schickele merely a gifted pastiche artist? I prefer to think of his serious music as the fruit of a totally and uniquely American composer who celebrates the great American music that has preceded him. Any ensemble that takes on Schickele needs to be fluent in classical, jazz, and folk writing to pull it off--and these players certainly are. The eminently capable Audubon Quartet knows this material well; it commissioned the Quartet No. 1 and had previously recorded it for RCA Red Seal in a recording that is now out of print. As good as that version was, this is even better; it's beautifully relaxed and colorful and the sound is rich and full-bodied. Lovely, lovely stuff.
--Anastasia Tsioulcas, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: CRC2505
Label: Centaur Records
Composer: Peter Schickele
Orchestra/Ensemble: Audubon String Quartet
Performer: Akami Takayama, Clyde Shaw, David Ehrlich, Doris Lederer, Peter Schickele