On the 12th of November 2011 we had the pleasure of hearing two talented youngsters from faraway places (he: Bulgaria, she: Australia) playing music from two centuries and five countries. Boyan Ivanov and Olivia Sham met when each gained a prestigious Making Music Phillip and Dorothy Green Award, and are a fine musical fit.
Mr Ivanov began the concert with a solo clarinet piece written in 1994 by the Hungarian Bela Kovacs: one of his popular hommages, this one to Manuel de Falla. His flickering fingers achieved effects I associate more with the guitar (which was, of course, de Falla’s instrument). The music was liquid, melting, robust, flighty. Olé!
Now Ms Sham joined him and they played ‘Sonata for Clarinet and Piano’ by Bernstein; typically spiky Americana. The harmonies they teased out in the Andantino were particularly luscious. Mr Ivanov found touches of klezmer and even (perhaps) something of the language of parrots within the music: delightful. The remainder of the first half comprised one of my favourite pieces: the virtuoso violin piece ‘Carmen Fantaisie’ by Sarasate, rearranged for clarinet and piano by Nicolas Baldeyrou. The clarinet seemed to be several instruments at once, ranging from commanding to mellow in a moment. Both players showed enormous elan (as the piece demands). And so we were turned loose on the bar, still humming music to swish a skirt by.
The second half set a different mood. The sparse, melodic ‘Première Rhapsodie’ by Debussy utilises his trademark harmonies to make one think of a stream gently bubbling over pebbles. Ms Sham’s fingers, indeed, moved like ripples over the keys of the piano. At the end of this piece I noticed the audience was heavily concentrated to one side of the theatre. The reason? So that everyone could see her fingers on the piano keyboard. There is visual delight in music as well as audial. Lopsided we may have been, as an audience, but we were most attentive. Mr Ivanov’s fingers flew over the keys of his clarinet like birds’ wings as we watched and listened. In this quieter music one occasionally caught the tiny click of a clarinet key, which reminded me what a mechanical, mathematical procedure underpins the production of beautiful music.
Next we enjoyed ‘Sonata for Clarinet and Piano’ by Poulenc. Ms Sham’s calm and fluid hands coaxed ‘tristamente’ from her instrument, Mr Ivanov stirred the pot of melody ‘con fuoco’.
Penultimately we were treated to a solo by Ms Sham: ‘Petrarch Sonnet No 104’ by Liszt. She marched onto the stage and attacked the piece almost before she’d sat down. After this tempestuous beginning the music became more contemplative. The whole was vibrant, exciting, limpid and conjured surprising twists within the harmony. The final, incomplete, spread chord died slowly away before we put our hands together for her.
Finally we heard ‘Grand Duo Concertant, Op 48’ by von Weber. It begins allegro in a sort of opera buffa style, with the piano and clarinet chasing each other Tom and Jerry style. The Andante which followed was a melodic delight. The petite Ms Sham’s powerful hands made the piano growl most expressively in the bass clef during the final Rondo. Their unison playing was quite astonishing.
There was one tiny treat left: the encore. Mr Ivanov had chosen a little ‘Rondo’ by his countryman Bobi Vulchev – a jazzman – which began with a siren wail straight out of Gershwin and continued the Spanish theme evident in the first half of the programme. After the hints of klezmer earlier in the programme this reviewer would have liked to hear, perhaps, a Bulgarian folk song at this point in the evening. Nevertheless, it is always fascinating to hear the music that is being written and played now.