Summer Circle (Navona Records NV 5873), 2012
Martin Schlumpf: “December Rains” (Karolina Rojahn), “Clarinet Trio” (Rane Moore, Rafael Popper-Kaiser, Cory Smythe), “Summer Circle” (Krypton Quartet: Alexandra Osborne, Joel Fuller, Abigail Evans, James Lee)
Purchase links: Amazon / iTunes
Sound samples: December Rains / Clarinet Trio / Summer Circle
Booklet text CD Summer Circle
This CD presents what is surely Schlumpf’s central piece of chamber music, the Clarinet Trio of 1997, accompanied by the piano piece December Rains (composed four years earlier) and the string quartet Summer Circle, which originated in 2007 as an arrangement of his saxophone quartet Winter Circle.
These pieces have several things in common: strikingly vibrant and varied rhythms, colourful harmonies, melodies built from clear-cut motifs, and a formal design that unites all these elements with great powers of variation into a story that is intended to goad the listener into creating, in his mind, a ‘theatre’ peopled with vivid images.
December Rains opens with an 11/8 figure that recurs many times at various points in section A as a sort of guiding idea. In sharp opposition, there are interpolated sections with expansive arcs of melody, insistent chordal repetitions and a madcap unison cadenza.
After a large escalation at the end comes the highly contrasting B section, December Song, in which the piano sings a subdued, despondent melody that speaks softly from the depths of the heart.
The mighty torso of the Clarinet Trio arose on the basis of a multi-layered architectural scheme made up entirely of proportions from the Fibonacci series (see Enhanced Content). Schlumpf has fleshed out this formal ‘skeleton’ with the aim of creating a very wide range of musical characters, taken to vast extremes. The three instrumental parts are further set apart by concurrent levels of contrasting tempo – temporal counterpoint – an effect particularly audible at the opening.
Roughly a third of the way into the piece the music, which has for the most part been highly agile and sharply rhythmic, comes to a sudden stop. The standstill is followed by the soft, tranquil section C, which moves from a passage of harmonics in the cello to a veiled quotation from Brahms’s Clarinet Trio. The latter is Schlumpf’s tribute to a master of dense motivic counterpoint and, at the same time, a discreet allusion to his own musical background: Schlumpf played the Brahms Trio himself as a young clarinet student, practiced the cello for several years and later studied the piano.
Before the piece ends in an explosion of feelings and an almost disembodied, ritually receding coda, we hear novel sections of temporal counterpoint (section D), a heterophonic unison passage with many leaps of tempo (section E) and microtonal colours and cadenza- like solo passages (section G) – a kaleidoscope of patterns, colours and movement.
In Schlumpf’s entire oeuvre there is only one pair of works consisting of an original and its arrangement: the saxophone quartet Winder Circle (1991), arranged for string quartet as Summer Circle in 2007. Here the fairly raw, wintery sounds of the saxophone give way to a brighter and lighter summer landscape. The overall form and most of the contents remain the same, but the tonic key, the hesitant emergence of the opening and the complexity of some of the overlapping textures have all been changed.
The basic idea of Summer Circle lies in the rondo-like recurrence of a motivic kernel presented and varied with minimalist techniques. Somewhat like the source of a rivulet at the beginning, the piece evolves into ever-larger currents of water until it finally swells into a river. Suddenly the focus changes, and a boisterous flock of birds jubilantly greets the dawn. Once their song has gradually congealed, the focus returns to the water, and we follow the river through the countryside in a wide range of undulating images. From time to time we are ‘distracted’ by tranquil faraway fields, empty roads in the midday heat, snippets of everyday sounds and, without warning, brief scraps of radio music that constantly break off. Finally the river unites one last time with gathered strength, after which it dries up into a trickle.
This, or something like it, is the story told by this circular piece of music.