Incandescent Brahms

Shelley Levy (clarinet) and Pavel Timofeyevsky (piano) in recital for Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre, Tuesday  8 May 2018


Review by William Charlton-Perkins


Tuesday’s recital by the distinguished London-based duo of clarinetist Shelley Levy and pianist Pavel Timofeyevsky proved a bonanza for clarinet junkies like myself, and equally so for this admirer of fine pianism.  


Making up for the absence of a printed programme, the two musicians engaged informally with their audience, introducing their choice of music from the stage. They opened their programme with the rousing, seamlessly elided, three-movement Duo in E flat Opus 15 by the short-lived German composer, Norbert Burgmüller. The lush, lower reaches of Levy’s clarinet sound evinced limpid grace and liquid tone, before giving way to vehement flourishes of great brilliancy on high, just occasionally bordering on stridency, given the intimate acoustics  of the venue, then falling back into the peaceful climes of the second movement,  and rising to an exciting finish.


Following this, the haunting Canto Notturno by the internationally acclaimed contemporary South African composer Hendrik Hofmeyr proved a brilliant choice, as delivered with consummate simplicity  by Levy and  Timofeyevsky.


The high point of the evening, predictably, was its centerpiece – Brahms’s incomparable Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in f minor, opus 120 No 1.  Hearing this miraculous offspring of the great German Romantic composer’s  Indian Summer love affair with the clarinet, brought to life in such a nuanced performance, was an experience to cherish, as each player offset the other with the perfect accord that is achieved only at the highest level of music-making.


The second half of the programme opened with the duo’s virtuoso performance of Chausson’s Andante et Allegro - the piano writing strongly evocative of Schubert. Timofeyevsky went on to deliver the wow factor in two solo interludes of Debussy – the exquisitely unadorned Homage a Haydn and the viscerally flamboyant L’Isle Joyeuse. The Duo then offered well-paced renditions contemporary French composer Eugène Bozza’s contrasting Idylle and Claribel; and the evening closed with a rare encounter with an early work by Leonard Bernstein, his spikey, jazz-inspired Sonata for Clarinet and Piano - which bears the historic imprint of the great Benny Goodman, who inspired its composition. 


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