Very few composers would have the wit and courage to title pieces Opus Pocus or Smart Alex, and fewer still would be able to bring the witty elements off with the élan and professionalism of Canfield.
Warmth, genuine lyricism, and humor are qualities in short supply in much of the music written in recent decades, but they are ever-present (and much welcomed) in the music of David DeBoor Canfield. Very few composers would have the wit and courage to title pieces Opus Pocus or Smart Alex, and fewer still would be able to bring the witty elements off with the élan and professionalism of Canfield.
Take Smart Alex, for example. It was composed for a young saxophonestudent named Alex Van Dyke and employs some avant-garde techniques that do notget in the way of accessibility. There are also quite witty interjections by a“page-turner/assistant,” who can be heard arguing with the saxophone soloist attimes. Even Canfield’s tempo marking in the score (“Zippity Quick”)demonstrates his easy good humor, as does the sudden C-Major cadence that interruptsthe harmonic chaos at the end. Opus Pocuswas originally written for a more conventional wind quintet, but thecomposer arranged it for a saxophone quartet. Canfield had a quotation of the Sacre du Printemps bassoon solo in theoriginal, but he changed it for a quote from the Glazunov Saxophone Concerto inthis version. (He couldn’t stop himself from being cute, however—the Glazunovwas composed for alto sax, but Canfield gives the quote to a tenor sax here). Opus Pocus is filled with delightful turnsof phrase and a surprising variety of color from four saxophones (soprano,alto, tenor, and baritone).
The disc’s opening Five Lyric Pieces are genuinely touchingand lovely, and the lyrical Elegie nachBrahms stays in the memory. Canfield relates a touching story about thepiece’s origins in the excellent notes that accompany the disc. The Sonata after Poulenc is one of a seriesof works for different combinations of instruments where Canfield replicatesthe sound world of other composers; this one is particularly effective. Aabac was written for thewonderfully-named Zzyzx Quartet (I am grateful I am not currently announcing onthe radio and having to figure out how to pronounce that). The title Aabac mirrors Zzyzx from the other endof the alphabet. I will confess that this is the piece I had the most troubleconnecting with, perhaps because of my own fairly conservative tastes. Canfieldstates that he composed it in a more advanced tonal language than was his norm.Repeated hearings allowed the music to grow on me.
Canfield was born in 1950, and the mostof the music here was composed relatively recently, between 2012 and 2016. Awide range of influences is evident, but Canfield’s individual voice is alwaysheard. This is a delightful, engaging collection, well performed throughout andwith a surprisingly consistently good recorded sound given the wide range oforiginal sources.
Five Lyric Pieces began its life in 2000 as a song cycle called Winter Solace, which was premiered at a festival of my music given at the University of Central Oklahoma in February of 2000. In 2012, desiring to present a long-promised work to Dr. Otis Murphy, world-renowned teach and saxophone performer, I came up the idea of reworking the cycle for clarinet and piano, in order write something for this artist on the saxophone. Consequently, the vocal line was re-worked to make it more idiomatic for performance by a woodwind player. The present work is not a flashy virtuoso piece, but is intended to display the rich tone of the solo instrument. The dark quality of the texts of the song cycle, dealing with the subject of the death of children, is complemented by a generally somber atmosphere in the music, but the set of pieces ends on an optimistic note, reflecting my conviction of the continuation of life in eternity.