6 May - Bryan Crumpler (clarinet) and Francois Du Toit (piano)


Bryan Crumpler is a 28-year-old American, an African American as it happens, who taught himself the clarinet as a child and has now built an international reputation as an exponent of this mellifluous instrument.

His recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre showed him to be a performing artist of the first rank. With the South African Francois du Toit at the piano --- a considerable role in the works played, not a mere accompanist --- Bryan Crumpler produced an evening of delight. He is a tall, big young man, and his style of playing is a little flamboyant, with a fair amount of swaying and swinging, possibly a characteristic derived from playing jazz. The tonal quality he extracted from his clarinet was outstanding: pure, controlled and accurate.

Predictably enough, the most impressive playing of the evening came in music written by the two major composers on the programme, Schumann and Brahms. Schumann`s Three Romances, Op. 94, were written as a Christmas present for the composer`s wife in 1849. They are unfamiliar works for most people and they are lovely, eloquent and introspective. Here, as elsewhere in the programme, Francois du Toit`s contribution at the keyboard was excellent, high technical skill with a minimum of fuss.

Brahms wrote four chamber works involving the clarinet, including two late sonatas. We heard the Sonata in E flat major, Op. 120, No. 2. Brahms was 61 when he wrote it, three years before his death, and it is tinged with a certain melancholy. Bryan Crumpler conveyed the mood expertly.

Not that the work is mournful. The piano part in particular has passages of great power and vigour, and the final movement is an imposing display of Brahms`s mastery in writing variations. Weber, a prolific writer for the clarinet, was represented by his Grande Duo Concertante in B flat major, Op. 48. As the title suggests, this is a brilliant virtuoso piece, not very deep but exciting and enjoyable.

The second half of the programme was devoted to twentieth century music, most of it in lighter vein: a sonata by Francis Poulenc, John Williams`s music for the film Schindler`s List, and pieces by the American Nicholas Pavkovic (born 1963) and the Russian Alexander Rosenblatt (born 1956).

The evening`s prelude performers (funded by the National Lottery) were a band of steel drum players, trained and conducted by Bryan Clarke, principal percussionist with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

I must admit that I had reservations beforehand about their inclusion on the programme but I was won over completely within a few minutes. The players were about 20 children from a school at Pietermaritzburg, taught under the auspices of the Steel Drum Foundation.

With humble resources --- the steel drums are what we used to call 44-gallon petrol drums, plus bits cut from them --- these young performers produced some really lively popular music, dancing and swaying with obvious enjoyment as they played.

Their enthusiasm communicated itself to the audience. Hats off to Bryan Clarke and others who work with him to enrich the lives of disadvantaged youngsters.

  ---- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)