A larger than usual audience for classical music at the Stephen Joseph Theatre luxuriated in the smooth cream that was Emma Johnson’s clarinet tone.
Relaxing. Abruptly, she adds salt and spice to the recital by bending notes in unexpected directions. Bracing.
Educational too, as the programme took us on a tour of the history of the clarinet repertoire, from Weber to Lutoslawski concluding with the bonus of Scenes from West Side Story.
Emma Johnson was immediately into her stride with Weber’s Variations on a Theme Op. 38. This was an ideal start to the evening: accessible, varied and lyrical. It also gave John Lenehan an opportunity to introduce himself to the audience with the piano solo of the second variation.
The Chopin Nocturne in G Minor Op.37 No 1 was as moody as a Nocturne should be and the first half concluded with Brahms’ Sonata in F Minor Op120 No 1.
By this point, Emma Johnson’s animation alone had won over the audience, although we had to be patient as the atmospherics in the theatre occasioned frequent instrument adjustments and reed replacements.
The second half opened with Saint-Saens’ Sonata in E flat Op. 167. Conventional in structure, we nevertheless began to hear the direction in which the clarinet was heading in the 20th century.
In the Lutoslawski Dance Preludes, we could hear the reflective, post-war sadness in the Andantino. Next in this piece, despite being based on folk tunes, the Allegro Giocoso reminded us of the urban rhythms so strongly associated with the clarinet in the 20th century (particularly, for me, Ross Gorman’s glissando opening to Rhapsody in Blue).
The audience pleasing Scenes from West Side Story concluded our entertainment.
Review: Mike Tilling