Carl Nielsen once characterised the clarinet as 'at once warm-hearted and completely hysterical, gentle as balm and screaming like a tramcar on poorly lubricated rails.' There was all of that and more in Luca Luciano's Derby Cathedral lunchtime recital - Derby, UK, 31 May 2019.
Most of the programme consisted of his own music. If the subtitle of his Sequenza No 1, 'Il Prescelto' (The Chosen One) is intended as an allusion to The Rite of Spring, I didn't notice any direct musical references. But there was plenty of expressive and technical variety to engage with, from flutter-tonguing, passages of isolated notes standing out like sparks against a barely audible background, breaks into Benny Goodman-esque swing, to rasping, throaty growling.
Luciano began Stravinsky's Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo in a reticent, exploratory frame of mind, unleashing a torrent of notes in No 2, which he capped with an incisive, dancing account of the third.
In his own She likes Vivaldi, the third movement of 'Winter' from The Four Seasons was the starting point for a brief but fascinating study in echo effects. It was complemented by his take on Gershwin's 'Summertime', full of beguiling embellishments and improvisatory sections.
Finally, more of Luciano's own original work - the haunting Study in Quarter-tones; Study in Microtonal Trills and Tremolos, in which he produced trills using a finger-tip on an open key-hole; and Nos 4 and 5 from his sequence of Fragments, both of them exploring multiphonics, No 5 using the technique to create drone effects.
As with his visit to Derby last year, this was more than just a compendium of extreme clarinet playing, but a rewarding exploration of the expressive possibilities of pushing the instrument's technical boundaries, as well as the huge dynamic and expressive range that Nielsen commented on.
Copyright © 11 June 2019