Review: Clarinet Recital at Clare

JOE CONWAY found a recipe for success: ‘Take a beautiful and historic venue with admirable acoustics… The result? A satisfying musical feast.’

Clare College Lucy Victoria Cochrane Maurice Hodges

27 March 6.30pm at Clare College Chapel. £15/£10/£5

Lucy Victoria Cochrane (clarinet) and Maurice Hodges (piano)

For perfect results every time. Take a beautiful and historic venue with admirable acoustics. Fill it to capacity with an audience of supporters, friends and contemporaries. Then choose three of the best – and best-known – works for clarinet and piano. Perform them cleverly and sympathetically over eighty minutes. The result? A satisfying musical feast.

By the end of Saturday's concert at Clare College it was clear that the recipe for a successful recital, as devised and dished up by Lucy Cochrane and Maurice Hodges, had gone down a treat. (Okay, no more food similes I promise!). As I looked round the crowded space I couldn't help thinking what a great advert this was for classical music. From small children and their parents, to students and academics, everyone was wreathed in smiles and rooting for the two performers. And, most importantly of all, thoroughly enjoying the music.

In fact as soon as it started heads began nodding appreciatively and rhythmically, and at the boisterous end of the first of Gerald Finzi's Bagatelles one or two people almost committed the unforgivable sin of clapping between movements! Fortunately they were restrained in time. After all one doesn't want to get too carried away . . .

But when people did feel free to applaud at the conclusion of each of the three works, their pleasure in the proceedings was obvious and unfeigned. Presumably Clare College doesn't resonate to the sound of prolonged clapping and enthusiastic hooting on a regular basis. The audience's reward was a charming encore called Frensham Pond, an unfamiliar barcarole-type piece by William Lloyd Webber, distinguished father of Sir Andrew.

As I've suggested, the three programmed works were much more familiar – Finzi's Bagatelles, Brahms's Sonata in E flat, and the Poulenc Sonata. Played in that order they made up a kind of mid-20th century sandwich with a romantic filling. (Oh my God, I'm doing the food thing again! Sorry). Though each perfectly demonstrates the sonorities of the clarinet, they do so in very different ways. The Brahms Sonata is the most mellow, showing off the instrument's lower register, the Poulenc is the most shrill and is written to exploit its highest notes, with Finzi's piece ranging between the two.

Lucy Cochrane was equally at home in all registers producing a rich vibrant tone which was helped by the generous acoustics of the chapel. In the many dying falls of the Brahms her line was a mere whisper which nevertheless carried beautifully, while scaling the heights of the Poulenc caused only the most mild of intonation issues.

 At the piano Maurice Hodges worked diligently and sensitively to deliver parts that are far more than just accompaniments. In fact in all three works the piano not only supports the clarinet but originates much of the musical material in a busy welter of sound. This was most obvious at the very beginning of the recital in the challenging piano figurations of the Finzi piece – not helped by a not particularly sympathetic upright piano. But when the musicians arrived at the relaxed middle section all was sweetness and light. What a gorgeous and quintessentially English tune this is and how right it sounded in this environment!

Other highlights included some magical clarinet effects in the Poulenc – both high trills and murmured tremolos joyously realised by Lucy. But perhaps the two performers were happiest in the haunting slow movement. Poulenc may have recycled other composers' themes from time to time but he really hit the spot in this magic, tragic movement. Equally lovely was the opening of the Brahms sonata. Here Lucy moulded the music with oodles of TLC but also with an underlying rhythmic sense which was very appealing.

In this, as in all the other music on the programme, the two musicians worked very sympathetically together. Outwardly symbolised perhaps by Maurice's DJ and turquoise bow-tie which cleverly echoed the colours of Lucy's dress. This concert of music by English, French and German composers was presented by the New Europe Society which has several further worthwhile events coming up in Cambridge soon. Watch this space!