“Original arrangements” doesn’t really capture the treatment Cliff gave these Christmas standards. While he used the tune as a starting point, he quickly took the listener to truly unexpected harmonies and styles (a ¾ piece became a rumba, or a single line melody transformed into a canon in a way that seemed pre-ordained).
In addition to his extraordinary creativity, Cliff truly understood the instruments he wrote for and created beautiful and idiomatic material for the violin and piano, and clarinet. Christine Carter deserves recognition for her beautiful playing on five of the tracks. Cliff would always ask, with characteristic humility, if there was anything we’d like him to modify, urging us not to hesitate to make changes ourselves. There never was and we never did.
Cliff’s time in Newfoundland was a gift to many classical musicians in St John’s. (He had followed his wife, the distinguished ethnomusicologist Bev Diamond, when she came to MUN.) His generosity as a composer and arranger resulted in many, many premieres over his 10+ years in NL with new works for solo piano, voice, orchestra, and various chamber ensembles. For Duo Concertante, Cliff wrote over thirty-five pieces. Every time we pull out one of these works and see his distinctive hand-written parts we are especially grateful for and cognizant of his talent, wit, warmth, and generosity. With these parts in front of us and his music in our fingers, we feel him with us still.