Clarinetist Ricardo Morales and pianist Natalie Zhu in concert

Ricardo Morales played Jennifer Higdon's 2012 "Clarinet Sonata."
Ricardo Morales played Jennifer Higdon's 2012 "Clarinet Sonata."
Posted: January 16, 2013

The supremacy of the violin and piano repertoire is such that we're taught not to expect much good solo stuff for instruments such as clarinet. Yet a musician of Ricardo Morales' caliber can't just live on the works written when Mozart, Brahms, and Debussy paid momentary attention to the instrument.

So almost all of the music played by the Philadelphia Orchestra principal clarinetist and pianist Natalie Zhu Monday at the American Philosophical Society was new to seasoned ears - even to Jennifer Higdon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who heard her 201 2 Clarinet Sonata for the first time. But what's she doing writing a sonata while immersed in her forthcoming Cold Mountain opera?

Positioned between Charles Villiers Stanford's Clarinet Sonata (Op. 129) and Weber's Grand Duo Concertant (Op. 48), the sonata had familiar Higdon earmarks, opening with entrancingly wide-spaced chords, echoing healthy influence from French impressionists that unfolded with Zhu's most precise coloring of the concert.

From there, Higdon's usually distinctive intuition for ordering musical events wasn't at its sharpest. At one point, the piano seemed to be launching into boogie woogie, and stepped back from it. The second movement echoed Hindemith, though not in any personalized way. Not having supplied the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society with program notes, Higdon revealed afterward that the piece is an adaptation of her 1990 Viola Sonata, a student work, made in response to requests from clarinetists. Now it makes sense.

Stanford's 1911 sonata is a genuine discovery, initially seeming to be Edwardian harmonic upholstery without memorable melodies. However, the clarity of Morales' lyricism and Zhu's sense of interpretive organization revealed considerable substance and compositional strategy that makes you want to revisit the piece repeatedly.

The Weber Duo was so mindlessly chipper, could this be the same composer who brought unprecedented darkness to opera with Der Freisch├╝tz? The second movement is more like it - a poised lamentation that, especially in its final moment, had unexpected turns en route to its harmonic destination.

Same thing for the encore: Florent Schmitt's Andantino(Op. 30) in the composer's harmonically saturated Gallic Zemlinsky manner. The one familiar work was Debussy's Premiere Rhapsodie, played by Morales with his customary tone and lyricism. Zhu was the wild card: Her Debussy had guts.


Contact David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|