Music for the clarinet and music by Johannes Brahms were on the program Friday night at the Park City and Salt Lake City Music Festival. Taking place in the intimate surroundings of Stanfield Fine Art Gallery, the concert was a treat for both eyes and ears.
The first half of the concert was rather light in content and duration, with fairly short pieces for two clarinets by Francis Poulenc and Felix Mendelssohn making up the program for this part.
Poulenc was only 19 in 1918 when he wrote the Sonata for Two Clarinets. This is a charming and utterly captivating piece that is light and airy and easily digested. Lyrically tender but also with humorous moments, the piece requires a pair of clarinetists with the technique and musicality to pull it off convincingly.
Utah Symphony colleagues Russell Harlow and Lee Livengood certainly have both in abundance. They captured the lyricism of the middle movement Andante with their seamless playing while also bringing a sunny brightness to the outer movements.
Following the Poulenc, the two were joined by pianist Melissa Livengood for Mendelssohn's two concert pieces for two clarinets and piano (in F minor, op. 113, and in D minor, op. 114). While both works are written in a minor key, there is nothing serious or dark in the music: The pieces are delightful showcases for the two wind instruments. And once again, Harlow and Lee Livengood exhibited their remarkable technique in the numerous bravura passages, while putting their expressive playing on display as well. Melissa Livengood, in a supportive keyboard role to the two clarinets, brought fine balance to the ensemble.
The rest of the concert was weightier, with the Brahms A major Piano Quartet, op. 26, taking up the second half of the program.
Probably the most classically proportioned of the piano quartets, the A major Quartet is a finely balanced work. While romantic sensibilities enter into it on occasion, the emotional outpourings are much more restrained than one expects in Brahms, and that is exactly how the four musicians approached the piece.
Violinist Monte Belknap, violist Leslie Harlow, cellist Scott Ballantyne and pianist John Jensen gave a glorious reading of the work. They brought out the lyricism of the music fabulously. But it wasn't an anemic performance by any means. On the contrary, it was wonderfully robust and dramatic where needed, passionate and dynamic in scope. It was remarkably balanced and nuanced in expression, and a compelling and incredibly moving performance.