Review: Season’s Opening Concert Delights Audience

Left to right - Alexander Sevastien, Kornel Wolak and Christopher Dlouhy

Left to right – Alexander Sevastien, Kornel Wolak & Christopher Dlouhy at NOCCA’s 2017-18 Season Opening Concert on Oct. 21, 2017.

By Jim Leonard

The NOCCA season started off very well with Christopher Dlouhy playing two wonderful piano selections.(Christopher is a student of Marjorie Close. He has taken a year off from school to achieve the ARCT diploma.) The first was Arabesque No. 1 by Debussy; it was full of transparent, colourful harmonies and carefree melodies. Christopher had a marvelous touch for this piece and responded to its many moods appropriately. The second piece was Scherzo by Oscar Morawetz (1917- 2007) who emigrated to Canada in 1940 from Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and taught composition at the University of Toronto from 1952-1982. The piece explored the ranges of the piano extensively with casual outbursts of virtuoso runs and quiet moments. This difficult piece was played expertly by Christopher. No doubt a bright future lies ahead for this young and talented musician!

The Double-Double Duo, aka Kornel Wolak playing clarinet and Alexander Sevastian on the Beyan (Russian button accordion) played a spectacular mix of music from baroque selections through to opera and jazz. Both instruments were amplified through the theatre’s house system and reverb was added. This was a good idea because it expanded and clarified the small ensemble’s sound. At times, at the beginning of the program, the amplified clarinet sounded a little shrill when played in the altissimo register. But this was adjusted by the sound tech and became more comfortable.

The duo’s program began with “Summer” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” This virtuoso string music, arranged for clarinet and accordion, was played crisply by both players with precise ensemble. As their program progressed, they were most charming when they addressed the audience, sharing interesting information about each piece.

Their next offering was 4 Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), an Italian harpsichordist who spent most of his life in Spain. The duo teased the audience by offering to play all 550 sonatas beginning immediately, and going into the wee hours of the morning. Wolak stunned the audience with his technique and breath support (circular breathing-a special technique that has the player inhale through their nose while expelling air into the instrument) by playing the difficult keyboard music on his clarinet effortlessly.
Wolak then played 3 of Bach’s Partitas for solo violin unaccompanied. He used his technical mastery and circular breathing technique to great effect in presenting these pieces.

The mood shifted at this point to the music of clarinetist/band director Benny Goodman. The duo’s arrangement of “Flying Home” provided the audience with a wonderful romp through a popular big band tune.

Brahm’s “Hungarian Dances” Nos. 1 and 5, originally written for piano duet, finished the first half of the varied program. We were told that these pieces were written for parties and were very profitable for Brahms. Of the 21 that were written, these two were the favourites.

“Tico-Tico” by de Abreu – a piece about a “nuisance bird” – began the second half. This familiar piece had the audience moving to the music; a strong rhythmic pulse set up by the duo was infectious. Wolak then offered another Bach piece -Prelude from Partita No.1 for solo Cello by Bach. His rendition was quietly reflective with a sotto voce (“shadow voice”) sound which sounded like another wind instrument.

Then it was Alex Sevastian’s turn to showcase his abilities on the beyan, which has 106 buttons for the right hand and 120 for the left. The audience was told during the question and answer segment of the program that his Russian button accordion had advantages over the piano accordion in range for the right hand, and ability to play melodies as well as chords with the left hand. He began his offering with a subtle “Liber Tango” by Astor Piazzola and then a captivating “Don River Rhapsody” by Slava Semenov. This piece utilizes a shaking technique applied to the wind reservoir and changes in timbre via the chin activated board on top of the accordion. Sevastian proved his mastery of the instrument during his playing of this piece. It was stunning.

The satisfying program was rounded off with a bluesy version-  complete with clarinet slides – of Erroll Garner’s “Misty”, and “Intro,Theme and Variations” by Rossini – a thrilling end to the program. As if this wasn’t enough, the generous duo played the “Clarinet Polka” as an encore, much to the delight of the audience.

The next concert features a classical string ensemble – “collectif9” – on November 19th. Click here for more information.

Review By Jim Leonard For The Vernon Morning Star