Glittering Fröst: Mozart, Hillborg, Brahms, Copland, Ravel.
City Recital Hall, Angel Place
Tuesday, May 24

Martin Fröst’s got moves; he should be crowned Scandinavia’s Lord of the Dance. The virtuoso clarinettist’s performance of Peacock Tales, a work composed for him in 2003 by fellow Swede Anders Hillborg, incorporates an eerie mask, sinuous twists and twirls, an impressive moonwalk and theatrical lighting – giving an already intensely atmospheric piece a touch of razzle-dazzle. He is a naturally gestural player who launches himself into this music body and soul, striking angular poses and voguing – yes, voguing – with clarinet in hand. A commanding sweep of his instrument was all it took to unleash cascades of massed string dissonance from the ACO.

All this without compromising his astonishing control of relentless melodic lines (sustained with circular breathing), his refined, characterful tone and the mastery of a range of extended techniques at times giving the impression of a second soloist shadowing his every note.

I find some Australian Chamber Orchestra devotees a little tepid, or perhaps hesitant, when it comes to the grating modernist works that inevitably appear on the programs. In one of Alex Ross’ Sydney presentations of The Rest is Noise, music by Xenakis and even Berg was greeted with shocked silence before the tonal expansiveness of Richard Strauss prompted the delayed, rapturous (relieved) applause. Judging by the enthusiastic reaction last night, one might think Hillborg and Fröst have discovered a way to break down the communication barrier when it comes to the hazards of the avant-garde in concerts. But krumping to George Crumb just wouldn’t have the same riveting immediacy as Peacock Tales, with the effectiveness of its visual language so closely linked to this showman’s daring bravura.

Fröst never really stops dancing; such an ebullient performer can hardly contain his energy on stage, however expertly channelled. His selection of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances cast a whirling gypsy spell. The pastoral idyll accompanied by harp that opens Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto offered a few moments of repose – this isn’t the strident Copland of Fanfare for the Common Man – leading into a jaunty, jazz-inflected section complete with the composer’s signature fourths and fifths. Fröst played the original version that the legendary Benny Goodman asked Copland to simplify before the work’s premiere.

The klezmer medley encore, arranged by Fröst’s brother Göran, imbued a wailing Yiddish cadenza with invigorating Scandinavian crispness.

The program was bookended by Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Ravel’s sumptuous String Quartet in Tognetti’s full-bodied arrangement. It was the Mozart, and not the bizarrely choreographed Hillborg, that Tognetti asked the audience to give a “fair go”. No need; it was easy to fall in love with the ACO’s Night Music in a rare nuanced performance of the done-to-death work. In the Ravel quartet’s second movement, the orchestra contrasted punchy yet delicate pizzicati with lyrical melodic phrasing. Hard not to follow Fröst’s example and just dance!

 

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