Paul Schoenfield's infectiously enjoyable chamber music has been brought together for the first time on innova's Café Music. With some of the country's most prodigious virtuosos and a stunning recording (originally intended for the Decca Argo label), this disc guarantees a good mood whenever it is played.
Combining ingredients of classical music, jazz, klezmer and whimsy, Café Music is instantly accessible despite its rich complexities. Irresistible and full of energy, this is caffeine-fuelled music at its most entertaining. Schoenfield playing the piano is joined by such leading players as Lev Polyakin (assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra), Nathaniel Rosen, and Charles Neidich.
The Ohio-based composer began studying piano at age six and wrote his first composition the following year. He received degrees from Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Arizona, where he studied both music and mathematics. He has received numerous commissions and has been awarded grants from the NEA, the Rockefeller Fund, the Bush Foundation and Chamber Music America. His three concertos for piano, flute and trumpet have been released by Decca. Among his recent works are an opera for Opera Theatre of St. Louis and a viola concerto for the Cleveland Orchestra.
"A smooth blend of classical, jazz, klezmer and whimsy, Café Music is probably a little too easy to like but it goes great with an iced Café Latte."
CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER
"Whoever is responsible, thank goodness this recording exists. Five Schoenfield works reveal the American composer's abundant wit, sterling craftsmanship and affectionate grasp of styles, some with Jewish roots. The composer blends popular and classical forms with wizardly ease. The performances couldn't make a greater case for Schoenfield's music. Polyakin, a violinist as steeped in jazz as he is in classical music, plays with mounds of personality and shimmering tonal qualities." - Donald Rosenberg
Following the 1994 release on Argo of a program of Paul Schoenfield's music, I thought we'd be hearing much more from this imaginative and appealing young composer. Sadly, this has not been the case, at least not on the scale that one would have hoped. The release of "Café Music" on the always-wonderful Innova label goes considerable distance to remedy the situation. Schoenfield has not publicly identified with John Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture, but the spirit of the Yiddish Renaissance infuses nearly all of his music that I have heard. For the first time listener approaching Schoenfield's music, I would describe him as a Post-Modern Gershwin or a Jewish Charles Ives. There is both a technical proficiency and an endearing sense of humor in his music. The opening suite, Café Music written after the composer had the opportunity to sit in as a cocktail pianist is a case in point. Bouncy rhythms, and terrifically challenging string writing shows Schoenfield's style at it's most accessible. Listeners familiar with Schoenfield's Four Parables will recognize a number of the melodic licks as Ragtime, Yiddish song, Broadway melodies and Gypsy scales form a delightful musical goulash. Schoenfield's interest in vernacular musical traditions date back to his student days and the composition of Burlesque, a warped ragtime romp. Its composition all the more incredible given that it was written during the heyday of the "Northeast Rationalist School" (i.e. Babbitt, Kirchner, Carter, et al). The Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano, originally commissioned by clarinetist David Shrifrin, continues Schoenfield's Yiddish preoccupation and is given a spirited Klezmer-esque reading by clarinetist Charles Neidich. Previous Schoenfield collaborator, flautist Carol Wincenc (dedicatee of the Klezmer Rondos) champions the rather Stravinskian-sounding Suite, Slovakian Children's Songs. The most "abstract" work on the program is a rather involved series of variations on the tune "Carolina in the Morning", titled Carolina Reveille by the composer. A virtuoso setting if ever there was one, Carolina Reveille also reveals the composer to be a pianist of considerable gifts and sensitivity.
All in all, a highly recommended disc by a composer whom ought to be much better represented in the catalogue. Accolades are due the superb Innova label for this release! - Sue Leigh Waugh