Elaine Cocks and Viv McLean

Concert date: 21 September 2018
Reviewed by: JRC

Two London based musicians gave a splendid performance for the first of NADSA concert’s 73rd series. Elaine Cocks, clarinet, displayed virtuosic dexterity which was superbly matched by the empathetic accompaniment of pianist Viv McLean. Elaine’s well-constructed programme was an eclectic mix drawn from the Mozartian era to the 21st century and included Indian Raga.

Composers featured were Devienne, Francaix, Bowen, Mayer, Poulenc and Booth.
Devienne, a composer whose main instruments were flute and bassoon, like Mozart, realised the expressive potential of the, then newly invented, clarinet. The potential was well developed in the rendition we heard of Devienne’s first Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, with an excellent balance between the instruments in a spirited nimble Allegro. Having established the instruments' equality, the piano pulled back to let the clarinet take centre stage for a beautifully sensitive Adagio. The clarinet’s acrobatics were great fun in the Rhondo.

Reflecting differing moods, Francaix’s Tema con Variationi were written to be test pieces for the Paris Conservatoire. What a kaleidoscope of sound they turned out to be in the hands of Elaine and Viv! We moved from light frothy and playful to subdued and soft, then agile and fast to jaunty. And then we came to the pensive Adagio, where their notes just seemed magically to hang in the air. The following chirpy hesitant Valza was a good preparation for the contrasts of the impressive clarinet cadenza that preceded the speedy but delicate finale.

In Elaine’s introduction to the next piece, she mentioned that one of Viv’s piano teachers had worked with the pianist-composer York Bowen. The first movement of Bowen's Clarinet Sonata threw us into lush romanticism; the second was lighter and playful with hints of Facade-Waltonesque, whilst the third gave Viv a dramatic piano opening later followed by moments of melodrama and poignancy before rounding to a dramatic finale.

Another personal nugget from Elaine was that she had worked with John Mayer the composer of the Raga Music for Solo Clarinet. She related the context for each of the nine movements of what is a fusion of Western musical techniques with Hindustani music. Her playing was spellbinding: moods changing from lively and busy to brooding tranquillity and languid with an edge. Mayer’s use of silence was skillfully transmitted to us by Elaine: no mean feat.

I find it interesting that Mayer composed this Raga Music’ in 1952, with such effective use of silence, and in the same year in America John Cage composed his controversial piece 4’33’’.

Poulenc’s music is usually unpredictable to the point of clownish, and his Clarinet Sonata is no exception. We had a lively attack from both instruments, the familiar melodic theme being boldly stated. The mood changed to subdued and mournful in the ‘tristamente’ section, probably a lament for the late composer Honegger to whom this sonata was dedicated. In the achingly moving Romanza the melody softly flowed and ebbed, then an anguished shriek and a tender close. The fiery attack of the third movement transformed, via fun interludes, into an over-the-top pastiche of romantic lushness before returning as a playful and affirmative finale.

The very appreciative audience was delighted to have an encore, and something special at that. We heard an arrangement of Barry Booth’s Blue Lullaby, a commission for a concert at the British Embassy in Japan in 1997. This lullaby, using the pentatonic scale, was not only soothing but also an interesting, way to end the concert.

It speaks volumes of their artistry that Elaine Cocks and Viv McLean breathed life into so many unfamiliar works and contrasting styles. One can be proud that Newton Abbot provided them with a good audience.

JRC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram