It is a rare event to attend a concert where the players are so perfectly attuned that the music seems to be created by them simultaneously at the moment of production, but Saturday night’s concert of music for clarinet, accordion and piano was such an experience. Originally billed as music for clarinet, guitar and accordion, it was a slight re-working to include the pianist, José Gallardo, as Miloš Karadaglić, the guitarist, had injured his hand.
Andreas Ottensamer (clarinet) and José Gallardo opened the evening with three contrasting pieces for piano and clarinet: Kovács’ Hommage à Richard Strauss, Beethoven’s Variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’, and Cavallini’s Adagio e Tarantella. The Kovács piece was a witty tribute, full of mischievous references to Strauss’s works, finishing in a bravura run for the clarinet. Beethoven’s tribute to Mozart was originally scored for two oboes and cor anglais, but the piano and clarinet version is an established staple; the two players (who work regularly together) handled the variations with the lightest of touches, and with perfect communication of line. Cavallini’s piece covered a lot of ground in a short time – the initial Adagio was an extended tango introduction, but instead of delivering a full-on dance movement, the clarinet shifted into a yearning little melody that eventually transformed into the tarantella – rhythmically pointed up by the piano, over which the clarinet provided a series of rippling runs.
The latter part of the first half was dedicated to two works for solo accordion played by Ksenija Sidorova: Kusyakov’s Autumnal Landscapes and an arrangement, by Sidorova herself, of the suite from Schnittke’s ballet Revis Fairy Tale. Sidorova is truly a musical phenomenon, and the accordion becomes a hypnotically versatile instrument in her hands, akin to a portable cinema organ. All the expected techniques were there – the massive rubatos, the abrupt changes in volume – but augmented to a magical spectrum of sound: a zither-like tremolo in the melody of Kusyakov’s final waltz movement was accompanied by a dark quacking rhythm in the reed chorus; a whisper of a café tune in the Schnittke was answered by a massive homophonic group of deep bass-note organ chords.
The second half of the concert featured music for clarinet and accordion, which, given that, for both instruments, sound comes from reeds, could have become bread and bread. Ottensamer and Sidorova, however, played intuitively together, allowing each of their instruments to shine (or to become part of the texture when required).
Podgaits’ Rendezvous with Haydn delivered a charming echo of the earlier Beethoven and Strauss hommages, albeit with a more contemporary edge. Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances were originally written for solo piano, but have since been arranged for many different ensembles, and the accordion accompaniment in this arrangement worked well with the modal harmonies to create a strong folky sound. Bronner’s Musique d’un shtetl was written for this combination of instruments, and is the portrayal, in miniature, of a Jewish village through handfuls of blue-note-rich Klezmer, ‘cow effects’ (achieved by allowing the accordion to run out of air), and a wittily constructed conversation between bride and groom conducted through alternating short passages of notes from each instrument.
Piazzolla’s three-movement Histoire du Tango, however, was the crowning glory of this half of the concert – with its little squeaks of delight from the clarinet in Bordel 1900, the alternating languor and busyness of the melodic fragments in Café 1930 and the nod to Swing in Concert d’Aujourd’hui. Two dazzlingly accomplished tango encores from all three players completed a stylishly entertaining evening.