Edinburgh International Festival 2013 (7): Clarinet Revelations

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2013 (7). Mozart, Schubert, Glinka, BrahmsNicole Boud (clarinet), Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Jane Gower (bassoon), Sophie Gent (viola), Kristian Bezuidenhout (piano/fortepiano), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 14.8.2013 (SRT)

Mozart: “Kegelstatt” Trio
Schubert: The Shepherd on the Rock
Glinka: Trio pathétique
Brahms: Sonata in E flat, Op. 102 No. 2

It was standing room only at the Queen’s Hall this morning for an ensemble that showcased more than a century of writing for the clarinet and piano, a programme that traced changing instruments as well as changing music. The central theme of this year’s EIF is the way that artists have interacted with technology and, lest we think that this is solely something confined to the digital age, this programme reminds us that composers have constantly had to adapt the way they write to the way their instrument is made. As Kenneth Hamilton pointed out in his programme note, the modern Steinway that we are now so used to on the concert platform is a world away from the instrument for which Mozart and Beethoven wrote their piano works. This concert helped to point out something of how the instruments evolved and, with that, the way the music evolved too.

Kristian Bezuidenhout, known particularly for his work on the fortepiano, here played two instruments: a Walter fortepiano (copy) for the Mozart and Schubert, and an Erard piano for the Glinka and Brahms. Nicole Boud, on the other hand, played three different clarinets. The results were revelatory, and cast all four works in a very different light to one another. The combination of instruments for the Mozart trio sounded much more introverted and homely than their modern counterparts, especially when heard together. Boud’s Theodore Lotz clarinet sounded husky, almost a little withdrawn at first, and fitted brilliantly with Bezuidenhout’s fortepiano with its thinner strings, light dampers and much more delicate sound. Add in the viola of Sophie Gent and we were treated to an extremely distinctive, quite individual sound-world, a truly conversational piece of chamber music that sounded like just the sort of thing that would have been played in a drawing room rather than a concert hall. Any thoughts of Boud’s clarinet being withdrawn were blown away by a scintillating performance of The Shepherd on the Rock. Boud summoned an open sound, full of colour for the evocative opening section, then blew away all the cobwebs with a lightning-quick rendition of the final section. She was perfectly partnered by Sabine Devieilhe’s bright, girlish-sounding soprano, whose light sound fitted the choice of instruments very well indeed.

Boud changed to a Piatet & Benoit clarinet for Glinka’s strident Trio Pathétique, for which she and Bezuidenhout were joined by the ripe period bassoon of Jane Gower. Her instrument had a keening quality that fitted with the intensity of much of Glinka’s writing, while the clarinet sounded noticeably juicier than the first one, letting rip in a sublime flow of melody at the beginning of the Largo section. By the time we arrived at Brahms’ sonata, written in 1894, we were much closer to the clarinet we know today, though not quite there yet. In a nice touch, though, Boud played the sonata on a copy of the instrument owned by Richard Mühlfeld, the clarinettist for whom Brahms wrote the work. The tone here was riper and more familiar, as was the sound of Bezuidenhout’s Erard piano, and the beautiful lyricism of the first movement, together with the variations of the finale, rounded off a singularly well thought out programme with panache, style, and a great deal of intelligence.

The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and will be available here via the iPlayer for seven days after the date of the concert.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 1st September at a range of venues across the city. A selection of performances will be reviewed in these pages. For full details go to www.eif.co.uk

Simon Thompson