Anna Hashimoto clarinets
Roderick Chadwick piano

métier  mex 77104

Following on from his birdsong cycles of Great Britain and Australia, Edward Cowie’s latest two-disc set explores birds of the USA. Pianist Roderick Chadwick is back again, but this time Cowie has chosen clarinettist Anna Hashimoto including her E flat and bass clarinets to explore the songs of American birds. 

The title of the recording comes from the words of the nineteenth century American writer Henry David Thoreau. He spent two years, two months and two days communing with nature in a log cabin in the woods. Edward Cowie feels very much at home with that. Once again, he offers us 24 birds grouped in four sections of six each. I had heard of the Blue Jay and the Bald Eagle but so many of the others were new to me, often having almost poetic names like the Yellow Crowned Night Heron or Say’s Phoebe. 

In his programme note, Cowie mentions inspirations of Native Indian music and jazz. For me what stood out most clearly was the voices of the birds themselves both melodically and even more importantly rhythmically. Both the clarinets and more so the piano capture the movements and flights of the birds. Cowie is also known for his drawing and painting.  The back of the accompanying booklet shows his musical notes where he captured the birdsongs along with attractive coloured drawings of the birds in question.

The music itself is fascinating. There are passages as in the opening of the Yellow Crowned Night Heron where piano and clarinet provide the idea of a nocturne, then switching to a lively scherzo as the music drives headlong into the birdsong. The American Fish Crow opens the first section of six birds introducing wide atonal sounding leaps, but these continue into smooth flowing melodic music. 

Cowie’s powers of musical imagination are something pretty unique among composers. Many have taken folksongs of their countries transforming them into musical classics, but Cowie goes much farther than that, returning to the choirs of Nature herself in order to transform the natural songs of birds into finely conceived chamber music for piano with clarinet. 

Roderick Chadwick and Anna Hashimoto are inspiring in these recordings, both for the precision and clarity of their playing, and for their perfectly co-ordinated ensemble performances.

Review by Alan Cooper