FringeReview UK 2019
Kymia Kermani and Belinda Jones gave a Clarinet and Piano Recital at Chapel Royal: Ireland’s Fantasy-Sonata, Bernstein’s Clarinet Sonata, four nursery-tune solo arrangements by Richard Rodney Bennett and finally Gershwin’s Three Preludes in this quite well-known duo version.
‘This isn’t May vs Trump’ we were told. No, a kind of lyric stand-off between UK and US composers red-nosed as a way of introducing a zesty but very substantial Clarinet and Piano Recital: Ireland’s Fantasy-Sonata, Bernstein’s Clarinet Sonata, four nursery-tune solo arrangements by Richard Rodney Bennett and finally Gershwin’s Three Preludes in this quite well-known duo version.
Though pianist Belinda Jones is no stranger to the Chapel Royal her clarinetist partner Kymia Kermani is new, arriving trailing several ensembles to her credit. And CDs of Piazzolla with a very recent one from last October featuring mostly unknown composers.
Kermani’s a powerful player with a driving upper register, and her repertoire features much playing well above the stave. Combine that with the intimate chamber feel of the Chapel Royal and you’ll have a tricky balance, but it’s one this duo adjusted to, to produce repertoire and playing of Wigmore Hall standard in a little room.
John Ireland’s Fantasy-Sonata was completed in 1943, his last great chamber piece, sometime after he’d been evacuated from the Channel Islands and produced his 1940 Sarnia sequence for piano. Something of the same style attends the piano part here, and Jones has the measure of its sprawl and sudden gathering to syncopated excitement in the closing section. It’s not a work inviting hushed, intimate reflection, which surprised me. Ireland’s mainly a miniaturist and this is only a duo work, but it’s big-boned unpredictable, baggy in its adventurous harmonies and slight lyrical fuzz till it comes together with vintage Ireland melodies – underpinned by the way Jones brings out Ireland’s idiomatic instantly recognizably piano-writing. The climax is exhilarating and played out here, unstoppable till Kermani caps it with a flourish.
Next up Bernstein’s Clarinet Sonata isn’t as well known as it might be, perhaps because it’s his first published work dating from 1941-2, just before his First Jeremiah Symphony. Even Copland’s similar Vitek Trio is better-known, but this is vintage very early Bernstein. Yes there’s a tang of Hindemith who’s arrived in Tanglewood to teach; and of course Copland. But particularly in its latter half, it’s Bernstein. And perhaps there’s reverse influence in the way Copland went on to write his Clarinet Concerto later.
In two movements, slow-ish grazioso with its Hindemithian grit jazzed fluidly, and much faster from Andante to Vivace e leggiero, it then swerves near West Side Story, as Kermani reminds us – something she grew up with. In a world rather starved of American Clarinet Sonatas – there are a few academic West Coast ones – it’s strange Americans don’t champion it more.
Jones pulled out four of Richard Rodney Bennett’s 1991 Nursery Rhymes (from Over the Hills and far Away) for piano four hands arranged here for two. Bennett’s mercurial genius could turn from Boulez to popular teaching pieces where nursery tunes are harmonized and spiced with a kind of hinterland that freshens their distance and enchantment. Jones’ choice went ‘Bobbie Shafto’, ‘Rockabye Baby’ ‘Polly Put the Kettle On’, and finally ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ with its riotous additive rhythms. Jones’ pianism is beguiling, lucid and deserving of longer solos with such playing as we have here.
Back to clarinet melodies above the stave. Gershwin’s Three Preludes – five were written of a projected twenty-four – are slinky jazzy things. So imagine what happens when you put the treble clef to the clarinet. More slides than the opening of Rhapsody in Blue, that’s what. These are delicious untamed readings and the delicate bloom of the Chapel Royal’s acoustic could barely refrain from popping – particularly in the last, whereas the second was a wonderful slinky four a.m. affair on tiptoe. It’s a great conclusion.
These soloists didn’t push their envelope beyond the 13.55 cut-off and didn’t play the Malcolm Arnold Clarinet Sonata, which they play elsewhere. Occasionally artists overstay their neat welcome. I have a feeling these could have played the Arnold and still had welcome in reserve.