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MUSIC REVIEW : Johnson in Clarinet Recital at Ambassador

October 13, 1994|TIMOTHY MANGAN

These days, a clarinet recital might seem a fairly rickety entertainment vehicle--there's nothing too sexy about the idea, that's for sure. But in opening the new season of the Gold Medal series at Ambassador Auditorium Monday night, clarinetist Emma Johnson appeared bent on proving how wrong such impressions are.

The charismatic young English musician--already a prolific recording artist--offered an interesting and accessible, mostly 20th-Century program, a lively stage presence, engaging spoken comments on the music and a performing persona both intimately and forcefully communicative.

In Schumann's "Phantasie-stucke," she went right to the heart of its lyricism, shaping alluring, ethereal and dappled phrases as need be. To John Ireland's 1943 Fantasy-Sonata and Poulenc's 1962 Sonata she brought a volatility of expression, searing and vehement one moment, breakable and intimate the next. She captured the sweet melancholy of the central movement of the Poulenc perfectly.

Her account of Beethoven's Variations on "La ci darem la mano," on the other hand, sounded showy, an application of an arsenal of shadings, colors and stretchings on a straightforward piece.

Two works from 1985 written especially for Johnson--Michael Berkeley's unaccompanied "Flighting," upward cascades of sound depicting the soul leaving the body, and John Dankworth's "Suite for Emma," an attractively melodic jazz/classical mix--finished off the printed program, in fluent and compelling readings.

Her accompanist, Malcolm Martineau, proved a sensitive supporter.

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