Nicholas Yonge Society

Chamber Music in Lewes

23rd November 2012

Finzi 5 Bagatelles for clarinet and piano, Opus 23
Mozart Violin Sonata No 26 in Bb, K378 (arr. clarinet & piano)
Schumann 3 Phantasiestücke for clarinet and piano, Opus 73
Brahms Clarinet Sonata in F minor, Opus 120 No 1
Weber Grand Duo Concertant for clarinet and piano in Eb, Opus 48

Timothy Orpen & Alison Farr in performance

Solo recitals by wind players do not come into the Nicholas Yonge programme all that often, so there was a special sense of anticipation for the programme given by Timothy Orpen and Alison Farr, especially when it included several of the essential building blocks of the clarinet repertoire, and alongside them an imaginative arrangement of a piece not writen for clarinet at all!

The duo began with one of the best known pieces by an English composer, Gerald Finzi’s Five Bagatelles. These provided an excellent introduction to the evening, as Finzi ranged in style from the Baroque to the Classical and Romantic, also throwing a sort of folksong into the blend. Each piece was beautifully characterised, and Orpen took every opportunity to play quietly, showing off his silky tone, especially in the upper register.

These qualities were also brought to the arrangement (we weren’t told by whom) of a Mozart violin sonata. Orpen is a very composed, undemonstrative player and brought a real elegance to this piece. All the ornaments were delivered with absolute precision, and after so much restraint, he made the most of the last, more boisterous, episode of the rondo finale.

The Mozart provided an extremely apt foil to the next piece, which for me was definitely the highlight of the concert. From its very first notes, we were plunged into a completely distinct sound world with Schumann’s 3 Fantasiestücke. Instead of the polite dialogue we had heard up until that moment, now the two instruments were locked in a passionate embrace, answering each other phrase for phrase, almost note for note. They inspired me to discover (after the concert) Schumann’s manuscript of this piece (on imslp.org) where the notes flow in one seamless outpouring between the staves; and that is how it sounded in this performance.

After the interval, Orpen again gave his own introduction to the remaining works by Brahms and Weber. Following the solemnity of its opening, it is the second movement which seems to contain the emotional heart of the Brahms sonata, at times so still the music hardly dares to move. Weber was just the right antidote, and called for some feats of virtuosity from both players. This was in every sense a Grand Duo; in the rondo, especially, the pianist dazzled with her descending scales. Weber gives the clarinet a big tune which anticipates the hero’s music in his most famous opera, Der Freischütz, premiered five years later. Orpen and Farr responded to the drama of the piece to bring the evening to a rousing conclusion.

Reviewer: Chris Darwin
Photographer: David James