From the recording 2nd Movement: Melancholy
Concerto for Bass Clarinet
The Bass Clarinet Concerto by James Domine is set in the traditional 3-movement format associated with concerti from earlier style periods. It is scored for Bass Clarinet solo with string orchestra accompaniment. Each of the three movements depicts a mood of the protagonist, who is cast as a nefarious character, full of wiles and evil schemes that play out in the course of the music. While the Bass Clarinet, because of its penchant for low comedy, reputation as a swindler, sleazy behavior, drunken buffoonery and surly demeanor is considered an ideal instrumental choice for this enterprise, it should be duly noted that the bassoon is equally suited in these regards, and for this purpose an alternate transcription of the piece has been made available by the composer.
The first movement is to be thought of as an evening spent in the company of a stalker as he pursues his quarry. A stealthy undulating ostinato in the lower parts represent the inexorable sound of footsteps in a dark alley on a rainy night, with the Bass Clarinet following close behind, alternately hiding or chasing as the pace of the movement moseys along through a labyrinth of disturbing sonorities fraught with danger and apprehension.
But even bad guys can get depressed, and the second movement is a melancholy meditation as the protagonist ponders the complexities of the low estate to which he has been brought by “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” The bittersweet sadness of the melodic line belies the rough character of the first movement, and gives the protagonist a sympathetic dimension heretofore unsuspected.
The dichotomy of these extremes is brought together in the Finale, where a transcendent opening theme is balanced by a contrastingly aggressive subordinate theme in 7/8 time, leading to layered strata of energetic rhythms that form the codetta of the exposition. The development section is an harmonic sequence built on a motive derived from the opening theme that is treated in an imitatively contrapuntal style reminiscent of baroque or classical concerti. This passage wends it way through a logical sequence of keys, arriving eventually at the recapitulation. In true sonata form, the principal and subordinate themes are played in their final tonic forms, followed by a coda that brings the concerto to a triumphant, if somewhat savage conclusion.
This archival recording features Steve Piazza, clarinetist with James Domine conducting the San Fernando Valley Symphony Orchestra.