Clarinetist's style echoes the human voice

Instead of sustaining a note, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois holds it for a moment, then changes shades.
Instead of sustaining a note, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois holds it for a moment, then changes shades.
Posted: January 22, 2013

Does it matter why we hear the musicians we do? With its deep relationships and pedagogical bloodlines, Philadelphia risks a certain provincialism and clubbiness every time an artist steps out on stage.

Astral Artists, though, is a vital hedge against that dynamic, expressed most recently on Sunday afternoon at the Trinity Center in the Philadelphia recital debut of Romie de Guise-Langlois. Where we're used to hearing refinement across all registers, this clarinetist argued for variety of tone. Rather than sustaining a note and keeping its color for the duration, she often held it for a moment, and then changed shades.

It may seem like a small difference. But collected over the course of her two-hour recital with violinist Kristin Lee and pianist Andrea Lam, it added up to a style of playing more closely echoing the human voice than we're used to hearing in these parts.

The repertoire helped to shape her argument. The Montreal native and Lee played the premiere of A Scattered Sketchbook by Syrian composer Kinan Azmeh, a harmonically hypnotic piece that might be roughly thought of as Middle Eastern minimalism. With its quiet wails, improv-sounding violin part, and repetitious clarinet, it's much more about the journey than the destination, and we were happy to linger in its mists.

If the Brahms Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in F Minor, Opus 120, No. 1 needed more time before becoming a strongly developed interpretation, and the Debussy Première rhapsodie was an appropriate joy, there was a much more sophisticated achievement to be found in Bartók's Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet and Piano. Like the Azmeh, it draws on folk material. Lam managed a wondrous evocation of a cimbalom in the first movement, "Verbunkos," a Hungarian dance, and Lee made two demonically gorgeous statements in "Sebes," a fast dance.

In section after section, one strong personality emboldened the other. Here you could hear Astral fulfilling not only its role as importer, but, too, as a wise force in the mysterious art of ensemble-making.


Contact Peter Dobrin at pdobrin@phillynews.com or 215-854-5611. Read his blog at www.philly.com/artswatch.

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