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City Recital Hall, Sydney
November 19, 2013
It’s not every woodwind player who can hold an audience spellbound through a five-minute comedic monologue before tap-dancing his way through a tricky bit of contemporary music. But then not everyone is Martin Fröst, possibly the world’s leading clarinet virtuoso and something of an all-rounder.
The 42-year-old Swede was making a welcome return to Australia in the company of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, lead by geographical neighbour Satu Vänskä, in a program that reflected both of their musical heritages.
We began with Rautavaara’s A Finnish Myth – highly dramatic – all snaps, clusters, glissandi and dynamic contrasts. Who knows what tale was being told, but it’s clearly a good one. This set the tone for the evening, the ACO playing with concentrated brilliance, passion and sumptuous tone. Denisov’s charming reinterpretation of Paganini’s Ninth Caprice followed without a break, Vänskä pulling off a dazzling set of variations over increasingly disturbing harmonic accompaniments from the orchestra.
The rangy Fröst then arrived on the platform, regaling us with a cheeky monologue about improvisation that turned out to be a part of the work in hand, DTangled, a piece for clarinet, strings and terpsichorean soloist by his brother Göran Fröst. Like some kind of crazy Scandinavian klezmer music, the piece called for the clarinettist to show himself a triple-threat, in this case revealing his previously known about dance-skills but also proving that his comic timing ain’t bad either. Wearing tap-shoes into the bargain, Fröst’s magnetic body work and foot-stamping lead an equally engaging physical response from the orchestra. The 16-year-old Mozart’s Symphony No 21 made a lively end to the first half.
The world premiere of Melbourne-born Brenton Broadstock’s Never Truly Lost began part two. A commission by Robert and Nancy Pallin to commemorate the life of Robert’s father, the famous bushwalker Paddy Pallin, this warmly attractive piece was reminiscent of Peter Sculthorpe in his out-of-doors vein with all the appeal of a Vaughn Williams rhapsody. Taking us on a musical walk in the bush, more meditative than dramatic, this rapturous work deserves a wider hearing in the future.
The evening concluded with perhaps the main event – Fröst playing the Mozart concerto – something of a signature work for him nowadays with two fine recordings under his belt (see an upcoming Limelight for review). The charismatic Fröst’s elegant, silky tone was showcased on the basset clarinet (for which the work was originally composed) as he wriggled like a lizard evenly over the full range of his instrument and pretty much over the stage as well. The delicacy of his pianissimo playing in the Adagio was extraordinary – “heaven beckoning” as my collegue Steve Moffatt said to me afterwards. I can only concur.
Martin Fröst and the ACO are at the City Recital Hall, Sydney until November 24.