Saturday, 18 April 2015

Phil Bonser & Margaret Chave Clarinet & Piano Duets Glenorchy Church Wednesday 15 April 2015 - Listen again on Sunday 19 April at 4pm

Phil Bonser &
Margaret Chave

Phil Bonser
The ante-penultimate lunchtime concert of this season of lunchtime concerts at Glenorchy United Reformed Church in Exmouth brought together two very talented Devon musicians. It is not often that either Phil Bonser or Margaret Chave are heard in concert, so it was a special occasion when they both played together on Wednesday.

Margaret has been Chairman of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, and regularly provides piano accompaniment for other musicians. Margaret and Phil are both members of Janet Macdonald's "Quorum" ensemble, which combines clarinet and operatic singing with piano accompaniment. Quorum have performed at Glenorchy several times, as well as other venues across Devon. (Their next concert will be at the Temple Methodist Church in Budleigh Salterton on Sunday 14 June this year.)

For Wednesday's concert, Margaret and Phil chose a selection of pieces with a vernal flavour to celebrate the coming of spring. Fortunately, it was a very spring-like day for their concert and the dappled light coming through the stained glass of the church windows matches the sunny mood of the music.

They opened with a "Piece en forme de Habanera" by Maurice Ravel. This was only four days after the orchestral 'Habanera' by Ravel (third movement of his "Rapsodie Espagnole") was played by the EMG Symphony Orchestra in their Organ Fund Concert at Exeter Cathedral. Margaret's introduction matched the sombre mood of the orchestral version, but gave way to an eloquent clarinet cadenza which went far beyond the orchestral version in variety and virtuosity.

Alec Templeton's "Bach goes to Town" straddled Ravel with influences of J S Bach and modern jazz. The piece opened with Phil's solo clarinet, later gently underpinned by Margaret's piano playing in perfect balance. A gentle and amusing dance.

Mozart's Clarinet Quintet required Margaret to do the work of two violinsts, a violist and a 'cellist, while Phil gave the clarinet part his special attention. For Phil this was not just a tour de force of clarinet technique, but also included extended passages of gentle sustained notes drawing the listener deeper and deeper into the musical mood of the piece.

In a sudden change they played music by William Lloyd Webber (father of Andrew and Julian). His "Air and Variations" allowed Phil to experiment with many clarinet styles in quick succession, varying from slow and languid to quick and snappy - with Margaret's accompaniment dancing along with him the whole way.

While we were on the subject of William Lloyd Webber, there was an opportunity to hear Margaret's solo piano playing, while Phil had a well-earned rest. (He was looking quite flushed after all his exertions.) "Gossamer" and "Willow Song" were the first and second of Lloyd Webbers "Three Spring Miniatures". (Time constraints meant we couldn't hear "Tree Tops".) The first was an ethereal evocation of fairies, while Willow Song was more in the style of a lament. Both were equally captivating.

The music composed by Paul Reade for the television programme "Victorian Kitchen Garden" has remained popular with clarinettists and audiences long after the programme itself faded into obscurity. Phil took the opportunity of a warm spring day and the relaxed informal atmosphere of Glenorchy to treat the audience to the whole suite, in four movements. The introduction was started slowly and gently by Phil. As Margaret joined in, the familiar theme took over with exciting runs and trills expertly performed by Phil. The second movement was short - a quickie - and very tricky. The third movement was slower and more deliberate. Finally Margaret took over the rhythm with a relentless tick-tock providing the framework for more clarinet exotica - and a cheeky conclusion.

Just for fun, Phil stayed with the gardening programme theme for another familiar piece. Jim Parker's music for Alan Titchmarsh's 'Ground Force' is exciting and energetic and was even more enjoyable without the distraction of television images. There was another opportunity to hear Margaret's solo piano playing in the interludes between Phil's flights of fancy.

Saving the very best until last, Margaret and Phil finished with a lively "Tarantella" by the romantic composer Heinrich Baermann. Ending the concert with another dance was very fitting, but this was very different from the Habanera. The reeling delerium of arachnid poisoning spirals into the frenzy of inchoate dance steps. The sudden unexpected collapse brought equally delirious applause from the audience - delirious with pleasure at the wonderful exposition they had just enjoyed.

There was just time for a quick encore, a minute's worth of Gershwin - "I got Rhythm"

Who could ask for anything more?

All of the music mentioned above can be heard on this Sunday's "Classical Journey Redux" on Soundart Radio (Sunday 19 April 3-6pm At 4pm we'll be listening to sparkling audio recordings, made at Wednesday's lunchtime performance - by Mike Gluyas.

Don't miss Phil and Margaret with 'Quorum' at Budleigh on 14 June.

Glenorchy Lunchtime Concerts continue for two more weeks. This week (Wednesday 23 April) the incomparable Beacon Piano Trio (Joyce Clarke, Anna Cockroft & Ruth Lass) return for another set of lively trios. At the final concert, we enjoy clarinet again as Betty Shipp (clarinet) and Christine Marsden (soprano) are accompanied on the piano by the one and only Frances Waters.

Although, after that, there are then no further lunchtime concerts at Glenorchy until September, the music continues. Audrey Williams and Rachel Wieck (violinist and violist with the EMG Symphony Orchestra) have organised more Wednesday lunchtime concerts until the the end of June, at St John's Church (Withycombe Raleigh) Exmouth.

All but the first week's performers are booked, and include Héloïse West (soprano), David Davies (piano & organ), Claude Lamon (trumpet) and some new faces - Judith Miller (piano), Jennie Battershill (soprano), John Humphries (baritone) and the Withycombe 14 Plus choir. There will also be a rare chance to hear Rachel Wieck playing solo viola (in a programme of viola and piano with Audrey Williams) on Wednesday 3 June.

As long as the sun shines, the music never ends.

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