Elder Hall. 26 Sept 2012
Despite Ambrose Bierce’s humorous witticism, in his tongue-in-cheek dictionary, that there is only one thing worse than a clarinet, and that is two clarinets, it is most definitely an exquisite instrument, and when put in the hands of a master musician such as Englishman Michael Collins, the experience is altogether sublime.
Collins is one of the world’s leading exponents of the instruments and an enthusiastic audience was treated to a generous program of Finzi, Debussy, Poulenc, Martinu, Musczynski, and Weber that amply demonstrated Collins’ virtuosity on the instrument.
Collins was joined by accomplished Australian pianist Timothy Young, who accompanied Collins in all pieces. Good accompaniment is a difficult thing to do, and when it is done well – when it is true accompaniment and not simply a second instrument competing for its moment in the sun – the result is a true joy and the whole becomes much more than the sum of the parts. Collins and Young together were a harmonious force.
I am not one of the clarinet cognoscenti, and I am not fully versed in the difference between the English and other styles of playing the instrument, but if the English were clever they would define, delineate, designate and in every way describe how Collins plays and claim it to be ‘the’ English style! (Interestingly, or not, Maestro Martin Brabbins tried to explain what typified British music a few weeks ago at an ASO concert, but he failed.) Anyway, all that mattered to the Elder Hall audience was that Collins is good, very good, and his gentleness and humility on stage makes him even more impressive. There is no fuss about the man, no posturing, just oneness with the music and incredible musicality.
Collins was at his scintillating best in the slow sections of the program. The third of the five Bagatelles (Carol - Andate semplice) by Finzi and the second movement (Romanza – très calme) of Poulenc’s Sonata were especially enjoyable. The dynamics were perfectly executed and the ppp soft sections were pure in tone. Impressive stuff.
The inclusion of the Debussy Rhapsody was most interesting, not so much because of the piece itself, but because Collins will be playing it again this coming weekend when he will be joined by the ASO in the composer’s own orchestrated version. The piece is unmistakably French in style – it has something about it that loudly announces its ethnic roots – and is full of poetic reverie and serenity that is contrasted with energetic and eccentric rhythms that beg your attention.
The highlight of the evening however was the ever-impressive ‘Grand Duo for Clarinet and Piano’ by Weber, and Collins and Young were definitely equal partners, deftly sharing the luscious melodies and technical difficulties between them. A showy piece to finish a wonderful concert
The audience did not want the evening to end and extracted an encore. Collins without fuss explained that he and Young had not had time to rehearse an encore, because he had only just arrived in the country after extensive delays with his flights from the UK, and so they repeated the ‘Carol’, much to the delight of the audience.
As I left the venue humming the theme to the rondo movement of the Grand Duo I contemplated the obvious musical prowess that allowed them to perform such a varied and difficult programme with only limited rehearsal. Remarkable stuff.
Where: Elder Hall