Having a son who once played the clarinet, I was interested to go to a concert featuring this much underrated instrument. It turned out to be a wonderful and varied evening of music.
Lucy Downer is such a good clarinettist that she has pieces written for her (see below). Jocelyn Freeman on the piano was in sparkling form – her energy and vitality shone through every piece.
The programme started with the Brahms Sonata for Clarinet (or viola) and piano no. 2 in E flat. Listening to the melodic interplay of clarinet and piano it is hard to imagine it would be so beautiful if the clarinet were to be replaced by a viola: certainly in the hands of Lucy Downer and Jocelyn Freeman, the sonata was a lyrical joy. Brahms came out of retirement to write this piece for Richard Muhlfeld, whom he much admired, and this comes through in the music.
This was followed by two short pieces, the first written especially for Lucy by the composer Nick Planas after he heard her play a few years ago. To quote the composer himself: 'Having seen Lucy performing . . . on the bass clarinet, I was inspired to write this short piece. My intention with this Spanish rhapsody was to create a piece which would offer some technical challenges for the player, whilst providing the opportunity for great tonal variety.' Nick is much influenced by Spanish music, perhaps partly because of his Spanish roots. This piece is written for the bass clarinet and it certainly shows off the full range of this unusual instrument, from the lowest notes in the 'slow' part to the higher faster notes in the 'fandango'. It is very modern, but it still sounds like a Spanish dance. Lovely, too, that the composer was in the audience to hear her perform his composition.
Next on the menu was Iwan Muller's Fantasia for clarinet and piano based on a famous aria from Rossini's The Barber of Seville. Iwan Muller was himself a virtuoso clarinettist apparently and he developed the instrument itself as well as composing for it. If you know the aria, it is easily recognisable but then Muller takes the theme and develops it, at the same time showing off the melodic range of the instrument.
Last but certainly not least, Mozart's Trio for clarinet, viola and piano in E flat with Edmund Jones joining the others on the viola. In Mozart's time, the clarinet was not widely played and this was the first piece written for clarinet and viola together. Mozart wrote it for one of his best piano pupils, with a friend on the clarinet and himself on the viola and the fun and joy of the piece are quite apparent. It is a piece to play with friends.