Review of Ilkley Concert Club: Metamorphoses at the King’s Hall, February 12, 2020

METAMORPHOSES is a clarinet trio comprising British-American clarinetist, Jean Johnson, with Dutch-born violist, Roeland Jagers and, for their current tour, the German pianist, Elena Fischer-Dieskau. At various points in the concert at the King’s Hall on Wednesday it became clear that the group were still getting used to playing together but this did nothing to inhibit the audience’s enjoyment of this varied and adventurous programme.

The piece that began it all for the clarinet trio – Mozart’s sparkling ‘Kegelstatt’ trio – started off the concert well. The clarinet part, written for Mozart’s friend, Anton Stadler, was the winner here and Jean Johnson created a wonderful sound although it sometimes felt that the viola and piano were holding back a little too much in a piece where the clarinet should really be the first among equals. Balance was restored in the final Rondo where the viola became a true soloist.

No such problems affected the next work, the unfamiliar Trio by Julius Röntgen, where the viola and clarinet had some wonderful unison passages. Here Roeland Jagers excelled, producing a strikingly mysterious sound on muted strings in the second movement. Although Röntgen had experimented with atonality this was a marvellously tuneful work in a familiar idiom, not uninfluenced by Brahms, and was given a warm welcome by the Ilkley audience.

The second half opened with Schumann’s ‘Fairy Tales’, with its mixture of whimsy, mystery and sorrow. The players struck just the right note with especially expressive playing in the third section. The fourth section with its trumpet-like flourishes in the piano part was not quite lively enough for this reviewer but the central section was very affectingly done. The final piece was Jean Françaix’s late Clarinet Trio, a work, as always with this composer, full of melody and spirit but here, particularly in the two fast movements, demanding real virtuosity of the players. Elena Fischer-Dieskau rose to the occasion and with the other players concluded the concert on a high point!

Chris Skidmore