My first excursion to the “Music at Noon” faculty recitals held in the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre was a great pleasure—particularly since last hearing its featured performer, clarinetist Zoltan Kalman, barely a day before in a stirring rendition of Birth of Blues as part of his duties in the Niagara Symphony Orchestra’s pops concert. NSO, Symphony Hamilton, Brock and McMaster Universities should count themselves fortunate in having such an accomplished musician on their rosters.
The program began with Bohuslav Martinû’s Sonatina. This multi-layered, multi-sectioned work is an equal challenge to both the clarinet and piano. The latter's role was well-fulfilled by Visiting-Artist-in-Residence Cécile Desrosiers.
I will confess at the outset that the clarinet was also my major instrument throughout high school and university before abandoning the trials of consistently finding the “perfect reed” for the equally daunting task of conducting orchestras in search of the “perfect read.” Accordingly, please understand that the licorice stick IS the best instrument!
This first work was admirably delivered with conviction and insight from both parties. Kalman’s unerring technique was equal to the many challenges of the trills, extended arpeggios and wide leaps demanded by the score. His depth of phrase in the haunting slower section was particularly memorable.
Most of Carl Maria von Weber’s Concerto No.1 in F Minor was next: portions of this heroic, charming work were never heard due to the cuts made to the orchestral reduction. For the clarinet students in the sparse audience (so sad to see considering the free admission and high level of performance—are Tim Bits more compelling than an hour of fine art?; Did the music faculty have more pressing engagements?) this was acceptable—but for those who may have been hearing this concerto for the first time the truncation didn’t allow the composer to have his entire thesis stated.
Nonetheless, Desrosiers provided the generally solid foundation for Kalman to demonstrate his skills. The “Allegro” was well executed; I was delighted that the 16th-note variation was included. A beautifully woody, non-vibrato tone was ideal for this movement. As always, the technical demands were met with ease, my only quibble was for a better fingering of the final trill to ensure accuracy of pitch. The “Adagio” was marvellously rendered with just the right amount of contrast between the poignant theme and the more florid commentary on the “orchestral” interventions. The notoriously difficult throat tones were, with one exception prior to the restatement, in tune and centred.
The playful “Rondo” was delivered with aplomb, sensitivity and surety of tone right into the final, triumphant super G.
Arthur Honegger’s spare but telling Sonatina was by far and away the highlight of this lunchtime oasis of art. Years ago, I had been assigned this work as my “two-day quick study” in the final year of my Bachelor of Music at l'université d’Ottawa. I have loved it ever since and was extremely impressed with today’s rendition. Honegger knew that calling for the A clarinet meant more than a semi-tone theoretical adjustment from the more usual B-flat. Like Brahms, he understood that an additional layer of “dark” would be the result. Both performers rose to the occasion in the lyrical and moody “Modéré”; here, they connected and supported each other like never before. My only caution was the “health of the piano,” which sounded in need of some re-voicing and a thorough tuning following the machinations of Saturday and Sunday’s jazz workouts.
“Lent et soutenu” was compelling in its line and colourations. “Vif et rythmique,” with its saucy smears, ostinatos and “presque Gershwin” tone, was the pick of the litter and provided a high bar for the students and fellow faculty in the hall to consider leaping.
Being lunch hour we had to be fed and the final offering—Paul Jean Jean's tour de force Carnival of Venice—was the “chien chaud du jour.” It was executed with just the right amount of melodrama and technical virtuosity (we actually heard two clarinets coming from one instrument).
Let's spread the word—these concerts should not be missed! JWR