In a stylish program of mighty pieces, all played with breathtaking virtuosity, an exhilarating first half and startling second heralded an out-of-this-world finale. What a fabulous farewell performance with Ensemble 360 ​​for international clarinettist Matthew Hunt, who brilliantly showcased his outstanding talent and versatility.

An integral part of the eleven-piece chamber music group since its inception in 2005, Matt has shared his sparkling expertise in performing dynamic concertos for adults and children, as well as being equally passionate about Music in the Round’s ambitious educational and community projects. designed to spread the joy of quality music and musicality far and wide. His clarinets (used worldwide and in films such as love actually and Pride and Prejudice) was heard in three of the evening’s four glorious pieces, while his delicate narrative voice also came into play in the first piece, the trio version of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale Suite.

Full of drama and melody, this diabolical, Faustian folk tale, originally scored for seven instruments, three narrators and dancers, was rearranged by Stravinsky for violin, clarinet and piano after the end of World War I. Five of the suite’s episodes are played as the soldier marches optimistically home, but unfortunately runs into the devil and makes a silly deal with him along the way. The trio luckily ends at a point where the soldier still wins. While the piano is in time, the violin and clarinet make the most of their playing time with Stravinsky’s spiky outbursts, circus-like fanfares, attention-grabbing excitement, confident, driving rhythmic verve and melodic loveliness. As the players’ instruments dance and sing through Stravinsky’s whimsical interpretation of the tango, waltz and ragtime (which he’s never actually heard but only seen written down), we marvel that a princess can recover from an illness so quickly, at such a pace to dance long, winding dance, restless routine.

Once fiery devil and violin depart, Brahms offers a real contrast in mood and rhythm. Inspired by the fine playing of the clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld, the composer postponed his retirement in order to write his Clarinet Sonata in E flat major in 1894. Op.120 No.2 (and No.1). With beautiful, tranquil melodic formations and some great piano works, it is considered one of the greatest pieces in the clarinet repertoire. In fine style, Matt and pianist Tim Horton showed why.

Interestingly, two players read their music on tablets and turned the pages via foot pedals. This means pianist Tim no longer needs a page turner, which is great, but he now has five foot pedals to operate. Of course, if the foot pedals were mixed up, complete chaos would ensue, as players would be turning the pages of a colleague’s music instead of their own. Luckily/unfortunately that didn’t happen tonight.

Next, violinist Benjamin Nabarro and Tim in Mozart’s conjured up uplifting music that made you smile Sonata for violin and piano in G, KV301 from 1778, delights every ear with singing, echoing, ravishing melodies and bouncy, hopping, giggling passages. Then we fast-forward to 1938 and Bela Bartok’s Amazing contrasts.

The great jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman commissioned this piece from Bartok and performed and recorded it with him. The delivery of our trio was outrageously stunning! The delicious interplay of instruments requires technical skill, tremendous versatility, and rhythmic mastery at every turn, which Ensemble 360 ​​players have in abundance. With passionate verve came acrobatic splashing, screeching exclamations, notes leaping and crawling through registers and dynamics, abrupt, exciting changes in rhythm and tempo, plucking, sawing, flickering and fluttering, rousing violin and clarinet cadences, the fireworks of hectic traffic jams and the sweet, hypnotic melodic magic in relaxation movement. In a series of breathtaking wow-factor wonders, the three moved in perfect, breathtaking togetherness, instruments, hearts, minds, bodies, dancing to the music and yet looking like it wasn’t a challenge at all. Only Ben’s bow frayed at the edges.

Of course, playing with such skill, versatility, joy and passion and yet with such a seemingly relaxed and effortless ease is the hallmark of musicality at the highest level. Are we out of luck! Thanks Ben and Tim Thank you Matt – and Bonne Chance, Fare Ye Well and Happy Birthday!

Eileen Caiger Gray



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