Mary Woodward Review

Jonathan Leibovitz (clarinet) and Eran Sulkin (piano), The Brunton, Musselburgh, Review.

**** (4 stars)

Jonathan Leibovitz and Eran Sulkin delighted the audience at the Brunton yesterday with their recital of music for clarinet and piano.  Jonathan’s biography lists a string of prizes and awards and his many concert appearances with orchestras in Israel, Finland and Australia among others.  Eran’s biography doesn’t glitter quite as brightly, but his piano playing is equally impressive. 

The recital began with Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie, a constantly-shifting piece which explores the clarinet’s wide range of pitch and timbre. A tentative, broken conversation between the two instruments became a floating melody over rippling harmonies.  At times wistful and poignant, at times skittering up and down like silent movie ‘chase’ music, it finally exploded into an increasingly accelerating, jazzy scramble to the final crashing chords.

Brahms’s clarinet sonata in E flat major was, by contrast, more stolid and Germanic – lovely melodies in the first two movements were surrounded by a lot of grumbling in which fragments of the melody reappeared.  The third movement’s pastoral elegiac melody was echoed and supported by the piano before becoming playful and then passionate, allowing Jonathan’s clarinet an opportunity for elaborate showing-off [and giving Eran a lot to smile about as he skipped around the keys]. 

The Brahms was well-played, but seemed rather stodgy and unloved: in the Poulenc, however, the two players came to life and had a ball.  Poulenc’s clarinet sonata is joyful, elegant, urbane and at times very silly, but never loses the composer’s characteristic elegance.  The slow movement was liquid and languorous, with some amazing pianississimo notes.  The quirky third movement took off at speed and rapidly developed into a playful tossing back and forth of ideas and fragments of melody.  There was a real partnership in this piece – two equal players with no separation of thought or mood, each completing the other’s sentence and thoroughly enjoying the challenges posed by the piece.

We were given an unexpected extra in the programme – Bartòk’s Five Romanian Dances – a delightful mix of folk melodies and the jazzy world of klezmer.  The pieces are flamboyant, energetic, and filled with life: it was a wonder the Brunton audience didn’t surge to its feet and join in the dance…

Jonathan and Eran calmed us down again by taking us to the rolling, grassy hills of rural England for Vaughan Williams’ As I walked out one morning – a haunting folk tune worlds away from those used by Bartok, leaving us calm and peaceful and able to face going out into the downpour that surrounded us.

Jonathan and Eran are a pair to look out for.  They played superbly – but I do wish they’d spoken to us, even just to say ‘hallo’ before they started playing.  It would have drawn us into their world, instead of leaving us looking at it from the outside.

Jonathan Leibovitz (clarinet) and Eran Sulkin (piano), The Brunton, Musselburgh, Run Ended

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