Another offering from he Brisbane Music Festival, this recital featured festival director Alex Raineri once again engaging in keyboard partnership with some guests. In this case, we heard cellist Shuhei Lawson who contributed to the last event in this series, playing a part in the Aria from Villa Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5. As well, Raineri presented clarinettist Dario Scalabrini. Both visitors were labelled ‘young artists’ – which they are in age, for sure, and inferentially, young in experience. That lack of public exposure became momentarily obvious as the evening moved forward, yet most of the problems I could discern were fixable, given more time for preparation.
Raineri and his visitors gave us three works: the Poulenc Clarinet Sonata of 1962, dedicated to the composer’s friend Honneger; Schumann’s Drei Fantasiestücke Op. 73 with Lawson substituting for the original clarinet as the composer permitted; and a work which brought all three participants together in Bruch’s Eight Pieces Op. 83, written in 1910 (and showing that fertile Max stuck to his melodic last, even while the trajectory of music history was on the verge of vaulting in extraordinary directions) with another composer-approved substitution, this time of cello for viola.
For reasons best known to themselves, the musicians split Bruch’s eight pieces into two groups of four, playing one set at the program’s start and another to wind up proceedings. As a job lot, the trios are richly Romantic and the effect of all of them together might have proved too glutinous, especially in company with Schumann’s rhapsodies and the blunt spikes of Poulenc’s sonata. But there must have been a bit more to it as the division was not a numerically serial one. At the beginning we heard Nos. 6, 2, 8 and 4; to end, Nos. 3, 1, 7 and 5 – all the evens and odds in separate clusters. This process evoked memories of a one-time common practice of splitting up symphony movements with irrelevant intermezzi; if it was good enough for Haydn and Beethoven, then . . .
The ensemble began with Bruch No. 6, Nachtgesang. Raineri did little to observe the detached notes in his left-hand arpeggios but the direction was difficult to carry out, unless you slowed the nocturne down to a glacial speed. Scalabrini suffered a squawk a bar after the change to Un poco meno lento, and Lawson missed out on some of the viola’s clarinet-line doubling a few bars after Letter E which was hardly his fault but a pity, all the same. Like most of what followed, this lyric proved to be a gift for a pair of players eager to enter the score’s fulsome emotional web.
No. 2 sounded fluent, Raineri establishing a rippling B minor undercurrent for his colleagues in a set of pages that rarely challenged anybody. In the E flat minor No. 8, both clarinet and cello made a fittingly dour and hollow combination in doubled/unison passages, particularly the stretch after Letter C which came over with engrossing force. Raineri maintained a steady pulse through this charged and dynamically fluctuating work. And he bore the brunt of the labour for No. 4, a romp for piano leading from D minor to D Major and operating in almost non-stop triplets and sextuplets against the steady crotchet/minim melodic output from clarinet and cello, To his credit, Raineri got nearly all the notes and couldn’t avoid staying in the limelight for most of its duration as he negotiated the piece’s volatile onrush.
Back to the more familiar Schumann triptych and both Lawson and Raineri luxuriated in the Zart und mit Ausdruck direction, weaving a languid web which reached a high-water mark at the diminuendo from Raineri across bars 57 and 58, preceding an eloquently restrained conclusion. An excellently couched response came in the Lebhaft, leicht movement, full of proposition/response work and here accomplished with an infectious ardour. A momentary lapse of cohesion marred bar 48; I don’t know why because the duet motion is very straightforward. But the only other problem came after bar 67 where the players treated the diminuendo direction to equate with decelerando, whereas I think the work ends more fetchingly if the pace is sustained right up to the final piano arpeggios.
Both players made fine work of the concluding Rash und mit Feuer, with some exceptional moments like Raineri’s deft negotiation of the switch from syncopation to block chords at bars 21 to 22; like the partnership across the whole block from bar 34 to bar 47; like the cello’s ecstatic melodic arch from bars 74 to 78. In fact, this movement proved to be one of the recital’s finer moments, showing an exemplary insight into Schumann’s urgent drive across fast movements and the architectural functionality of his block repetitions.
Scalabrini and Raineri ran through the Poulenc sonata’s outer movements with keen eyes for their frenetic undertones, pulling back for the signature expressive melodic interludes. I’m not as enamoured with this score as with the Flute Sonata, which impresses as a pinnacle of French 20th century chamber music. But, for all that inbuilt bias, I could still admire the brio of the duo’s assault on the first movement Allegro tristamente, Scalabrini making a brave showing until the whole bar pianissimo trill at bar 9 where reducing his power proved a difficult feat; and more obviously, nine bars after Figure 9 where a note went missing in the B/E minor arpeggios. Both musicians responded very ably to the changes in texture and dynamic, at their best on the last page where the brusque leading motive sinks to nothingness, but under protest.
Scalabrini earned plaudits through the Romanza, bringing the shade of Benny Goodman to life at Number 2 with those Gershwin-suggestive rapid scales and the abrupt recovery required from each. Raineri gave more force than expected at Letter 4 but pulled back his emphasis to suit Scalabrini’s more dispassionate interpolations around the movement’s centre; still, the clarinettist had trouble starting very soft melodic arches. as in the 8th last bar where both executants have a triple piano marking.
Poulenc’s concluding Allegro con fuoco proved testing for both players, the clarinet missing the odd note, as in the downward runs leading up to Number 6. But Scalabrini could surprise you with sudden brilliant details of execution, including a facility with Poulenc’s curt pre-melody ornamentation. The only insecure moment I heard came near Figure 12: a question of a minutely delayed entry. For the rest, this movement was carried off with ample enthusiasm and a powerful account of the batteringly loud last 7 bars.
Back to Bruch and the odd-numbered pieces. No. 3 gives the two linear instruments a solo each, Lawson bringing up memories of Kol Nidre during his firmly delivered account of the first 24 bars. Where the string solo was a stop-and-start creature, Scalabrini’s clarinet wove a fine, measured lyrical arch. Some high notes tested Lawson’s pitching during his second solo, but the eventual collaboration succeeded, the string’s abruptness finally yielding to the clarinet’s calm and the piece coming to an impressively sonorous conclusion that began with a true unison ten bars from the end. The A minor first piece in the series is the least interesting of them all, here giving no grief to any of the performers. On the opposite side of the coin, No. 7 has Mendelssohnian rapidity as its premise and the brunt of that work fell to Raineri who found out the pages’ scintillations and gave just enough weight to the piano’s hefty chords that relieve the 6/8 skittering at two focal points.
Last of all, Bruch’s Rumänische Melodie No. 5 gave a platform to Lawson’s talent for full bowing in outlining the initial tune. Scalabrini’s entry prompted a sort of canonic duet with the cello but the folk colour didn’t carry much weight, belonging more to the school of Liszt in slow rhapsodic mode than to Bartok searching out asperities and irregularities. Here, Ranieri kept his powder dry, notably in the whirlpool of arpeggios that start at Letter E and gain in flourishes before fading away 26 lush bars later.
At least we can say we heard them, but I’m not sure that these Bruch bagatelles have much to offer these days, except as works for a mutable combination of instruments. Next time, Raineri might give his two friends something a touch more substantial, less salonesque – Mozart’s Kegelstatt, Beethoven’s Op. 11, Brahms’ Clarinet Trio, or other works with similar instrumentation by Ireland and d’Indy. For a nationalistic note, perhaps Alfred Hill’s Miniature Trio might be worth resuscitating. Nevertheless, this recital served to bring a pair of young talents into the public arena, both estimable contributors to Brisbane’s musical stage. And it reinforced Raineri’s reputation as an outstandingly sympathetic chamber musician.