Scandinavian and New Zealand players unite wonderfully for the two greatest clarinet quintets

Waikanae Music Society

The Dalecarlia Clarinet Quintet:
Anna McGregor (clarinet), Manu Berkeljon (violin), Sofie Sunnerstam (violin), Anders Noren (viola) and Tomas Blanch (cello)

Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A, K 581
Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op 115

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 6 July, 2:30 pm

I understand that the Waikanae Music Society asked for and got a programme other than those that the promoters of the New Zealand tour (Chamber Music New Zealand) was offering. Both Chamber Music Hutt Valley and Wellington Chamber Music settled for either the Mozart or the Brahms plus ‘fillers’ in the first half.

This concert was first advertised as the Antithesis Quintet, which might have referred to the programme, sub-titled ‘Concert of Opposites’. But as a result of an injury sustained by one of the string players, the personnel was changed and subsequently the name, to Dalecarlia. The players are members of the Dalasinfoniettan orchestra, based in Falun which is in the region of Dalecarlia (Dalarna in Swedish) in central Sweden.

For the record, the original material that we posted on Coming Events on this website, listed the following members: Anna McGregor (clarinet), Hilda Kolstad Huse (violin), Sofie Sunnerstam (violin), Fanny Maréchal (viola) and Katrine Pedersen (cello).

Neither the interview with Eva Radich on Upbeat on Friday nor the websites we’ve looked at touched on the reasons for the three personnel changes and the name change.

I’d been at the Lower Hutt concert and had been impressed by the Mozart quintet but at Waikanae, from the very opening, there was something different, in the extraordinary beauty and gentleness of the clarinet’s rising phrase, and the same feeling of greater care and finesse from the strings. The pianissimi were breathtaking, from all the players.

I wondered whether the quite different acoustic might have explained what I felt was a more fine-grained and penetrating performance (still jet-lagged at Lower Hutt?). It has been customary to criticise the hall as a cavernous sports stadium but, apart from the sound becoming more dim for those seated far from the stage, the sound now is clear, seeming to enhance the distinct timbres and articulations of the individual instruments. I really relished the sound.

Naturally, the exquisite second movement, Larghetto, prospered is this space where the clarinet is very centre-stage, and it was possible to delight in Anna McGregor’s rapport with the strings (remarkable given that the group has really been together such a short time); I am often given to thinking as I listen to music of great beauty, that it is the most overwhelmingly beautiful creation ever, and this was indeed one of those times. And the Menuetto and Trio were not far behind: beguiling, unhurried, with long passages for strings alone, the first violin (Sofie Sunnerstam) producing a lean yet satin-smooth tone.

The last movement is in the theme and variations form, though the variety that Mozart introduces makes one quite overlook the fact that we are hearing the same basic tune over and over. The third variation, in A minor, gives the viola (Anders Noren) a gorgeous minute of exposure, a premonition of the longer Adagio of the fifth and last variation. These gracious slow phases seemed to me the most awesome moments of the work, though it ends with a restorative Allegro coda: just perfect.

Fancy getting the Brahms Quintet in addition, in the same concert! That will also be played at the Wellington Chamber Music concert at St Andrew’s this coming Sunday, along with pieces by Ross Harris and a Swedish composer.

Brahms makes a much more concerted work from his resources than Mozart had. Clarinet and strings play together, singing their distinct parts in more complex five-part ensemble. For this, the two violins changed places: Manu Berkeljon was leader here. At Lower Hutt I had felt that her violin blended slightly better in the ensemble, but at Waikanae I could not make such a distinction, though Sofie’s instrument sounded a little lighter in tone, lending a welcome contrast between the two.

Compared with the sunny, delighted mood of the Mozart, composed just two months before he died, Brahms, in B minor, sounded a great deal more weighed down by the burdens of the world (though his death was still six years off), with almost anguished passages in the first movement. Violins had the opening phrase of the first movement, but the clarinet opens the sombre Adagio with its three descending notes, leading to one of Brahms’s most beautiful, elegiac melodies; its stillness was transfixing.

The players handled the brief third movement, a disguised Scherzo, giving no pause for meditation. Like Mozart’s, the last movement is a set of five variations; it’s led by the cello (the excellent Tomas Blanch) into deeper waters, not to be misled by the tempo marking Con Moto.  Again, considering the shortness of their time together (though most of them are used to collaborating in the chamber orchestra in Falun), I was moved by the integrity, of their playing, of the same mind, exploring Brahms’s essentially serious nature through the complex strands of the Finale and finding profundity as well as enchantment in it.

The loud applause from the 350–plus crowd proved that the Waikanae Society had not been wrong to seek both these great works – after all, why not when you’ve travelled 20,00km to play them?


Leave a Reply

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