As the title indicates, on this disc the composers, performers and the music itself are linked by depression, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s. The recording followed a 2014 fundraising concert put together by the two soloists, who had both lost a parent to Parkinson’s. John Adams’s Gnarly Buttons (1996) and Kevin Malone’s The Last Memory (for solo clarinet and digital tape delay; 1996) arose in part from their fathers’ struggles with Alzheimer’s. Strauss’s magisterially misnamed Sonatina may be the result of wartime influenza and depression (occasioned by the destruction of the Munich Court Theatre). Only Mendelssohn’s Concert Piece is unencumbered by association, though its composer’s early death has been linked potentially with a Parkinson’s-like ailment.
With all proceeds from the sales being donated to Parkinson’s charities, this two-CD set is immensely worthwhile. The performances are immaculate. Rarely have I have been so engaged in this repertoire as by the Northern Chamber Orchestra’s accounts. The Strauss in particular is a delight, the kind of performance that convinces – were it needed – that these ‘wrist exercises’ (Strauss’s self-deprecating term) do have lasting value. Gnarly Buttons is rendered with electric virtuosity by soloist (Jordan) and orchestra, while Lynsey Marsh’s performance of Malone’s discomforting The Last Memory is haunting.
Production values are first-rate, with excellent sound and an informative booklet note supplemented by a ‘music therapist’s view’ from Jonathan Trout. In a world where music tuition and therapy are under siege from politico-economic philistinism, this is an important release. Go buy it!