review of The Mayor’s Concert at the Guildhall on Wednesday 24th July 2013

One of the highlights of the Cambridge Music Festival is the Mayor’s Concert. This year’s event held in the Guildhall was highly successful and featured clarinetist Emma Johnson and pianist Pascal Rogé. Since winning the BBC young Musician of the Year in 1984, Emma has carved herself a thriving career as a professional performer, and Paul Rogé, since being admitted to the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 11 has become a highly acclaimed concert pianist. They made a formidable pair.

The programme included works by Beethoven, Brahms, Poulenc, Milhaud and Debussy. These two very talented performers synchronized well, Emma and Pascal echoing each other in mood and expression perfectly.

The opening work was Beethoven’s ‘Variations on ‘La ci darem la mano’’ from Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’. This familiar aria was given new ground by these performers with undeniable skill and empathy. Even when playing some of the most rapid short sharp notes, these performers never faltered.

Their other joint works were also delightful: In ‘Sonata in F minor, Op 120 No 1’ by Brahms they revelled in the emotional pull of the composer’s expansive phrases and the variety of expression they managed to convey in single phrases was phenomenal. Sweeping from one register to another on the clarinet was no problem for Emma. Poulenc’s ‘Sonata for Clarinet and Piano’ was magical, Chopin’s ‘Fantasy Impromptu’ amazing and Milhaud’s Scaramouche was a wonderful journey into a world of childlike innocence and delight.

When Pascal played his solo items, it was clear that his favoured works would be by French composers. Speaking to him at the interval I was impressed to hear him make final decisions about which pieces he would perform. He obviously had a huge repertoire immediately at his fingertips. The audience was delighted when he chose to play some of the most popular pieces of the French repertoire: Arabesque no. 1 by Debussy, Debussy’s ‘Claire de Lune’ and Satie’s Gymnopédie no 1. as well as  the Poulenc Improvisations inspired by the French singer Edith Piaf and The Austrian music of Franz Schubert in turn. Pascal played with great skill, giving the pieces authenticity and momentum. 

Their encore, an arrangement of Debussy’s La Fille au cheveaux de lin’ was a delight and certainly well deserved.

The concert was in aid of Centre33 (providing support for young people aged 18 to 25) www.centre33.org.uk and Blue Smile (supporting children with mental health problems) www.bluesmileproject.org. For more information about the festival, contact www.cambridgesummermusic.com.

 Rosemary Westwell

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