Charles Neidich, clarinet and artistic director
Mariko Furukawa, piano
Tenri Cultural Institute, New York, NY
November 10, 2017
Charles Neidich displayed several facets of his immense talent on Friday night during one of his well-curated “Wa” concerts. “Wa” is a word that means “circle” or “harmony, completeness,” and these values were abundantly in evidence, from the intelligent programming of works by Robert Schumann and Max Reger, to the divine performance, the genial verbal introductions and context-setting, and the pre- and post-concert feast and wine by his wife Ayako Oshima (also a fine clarinetist). The intimate setting of the Tenri Institute was perfect for this event.
Interestingly, all the Schumann pieces were transcriptions, since he didn’t really create for clarinet and piano duo. Mr. Neidich and his superb collaborator Mariko Fukuwara opened with Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op. 102 (Five Pieces in Folk-style), originally for cello. They imbued the set with all the verve it requires and were seamlessly coordinated in every nuance.
Then followed the huge clarinet and piano sonata by Max Reger, Op. 49, No. 1. When one hears Mr. Neidich, one really doesn’t think about the instrument, only the music, so unified is he with the clarinet that it is never an issue. I can’t imagine a better performance than this one of this complicated piece, every whisper and yearning was conveyed with utter sensitivity, from both players. Again, Ms. Fukuwara handled the difficult piano part with complete transparency, no easy feat in this repertoire.
After intermission, they lightened the tone a bit by sampling two of Reger’s shorter works, the delightful Tarantella (WoO II/12) and Albumblatt (WoO II/13). This is a distinctly German interpretation of the tarantella from Reger, indeed, no one is going to dance out their spider venom with this one, but it is lovely nevertheless.
Then after some pointed introduction, Mr. Neidich and Ms. Furukawa performed a virtually unknown Schumann sonata (Op. posth. WoO 2) that was originally composed for violin, re-using the two movements Schumann had contributed to the joint F.A.E.- Frei aber einsam (“free but lonely”) sonata, adding two prior movements of his own, very late in his life. As Mr. Neidich poignantly reminded us, Clara Schumann was such a zealous guarder of her husband’s legacy and reputation that she burned the work, thinking it beneath Schumann, though she did perform it a few times with Joseph Joachim. A sketchy manuscript copy of those first two movements was located recently in a library, hence it does survive. It has all the Schumann characteristics, the way he “behaves” in A Minor, one of his favorite tonalities. The fourth movement is a veritable hell-hole of difficulty, stemming from its violinistic figurations—this inspired Mr. Neidich’s most overtly virtuosic playing of the evening, and earned him well-deserved uproarious applause.
For an encore, the pair reached into another obscure Schumann corner: the Abendlied, Op. 85 No. 12, originally for piano four-hands. It was a lovely way to end a rare and valuable evening.