‘Fine balance and dynamic control’ from consummate professionals

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Alan Vivian.

 “Alan Vivian in Recital”, Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Ainslie Arts Centre, October 28. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN.

MANY world-class musicians call Canberra home and Alan Vivian is a distinguished member of that cohort.  

Long-time principal clarinet with the SSO, ACO and CSO, he has enjoyed a quite incredible playing career which includes performances as soloist with the Bolshoi Opera, appearing as visiting artist at the Paris Conservatoire and recording for five different record labels.   Students who have benefitted from his more than 20-year teaching career as senior lecturer of clarinet at the ANU School of Music are dotted throughout the world as competition prize winners, international scholarship holders and accomplished musicians occupying positions in many national and international orchestras.

Pianist Susanne Powell.

The “Alan Vivian in Recital” concert was presented by the CSO in the intimate chamber-like surrounds of the Ainslie Arts Centre and was performed in collaboration with renowned pianist Susanne Powell, herself a former ANU faculty member and artist with outstanding worldwide credentials. Due to the virus, this was Vivian’s first concert since an appearance with the TSO in February and, in horse racing parlance, he was in fine form first up from a spell.

He opened with three “Fantasy Pieces” by
Robert Schumann for clarinet and piano. The pair clicked immediately with fine balance and dynamic control, and pleasing accuracy in rhythm and phrasing.

Francis Poulenc was commissioned by Benny Goodman to compose the “Sonata for Clarinet and Piano” but Goodman found it overly difficult and actually performed a simplified version. Vivian presented the original and it certainly is demanding, with rapid flourishes, complicated rhythmic patterns and contrasting musical moods. Tone, particularly in lower and middle ranges, was rich and most pleasing.

The soloist explained that the Adagio from the Ludwig Spohr “Clarinet Concerto No.2”
is rarely, if ever, performed, probably due to perceived orchestration weaknesses. It is however a beautifully melodic and graceful piece and just right in Vivian’s sonorous
“sweet spot” tonal range.

The Debussy “Premiere Rhapsodie” is a technically demanding competition piece designed to display the virtuosic abilities of the performer. It has a graceful, gentle introduction
then darts away as a flurry of fingers scramble all over the clarinet in excellent interplay with the piano.

The final offering was a cutely named “Verdiana for Clarinet and Piano”, a fantasy on themes from Verdi operas. This was clever programming and most enjoyable, with piano ably substituting for a complete orchestra and clarinet riding comfortably over the top. The well-written medley was full of theatrical drama and appropriate Italian passion, highlighted by a tightly controlled and excellent clarinet cadenza.

This was an enjoyable evening of contrasting, interesting and entertaining works performed by two consummate professionals.

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