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Shifrin, Korepanova shine with French and German gems at FIU Music Festival

South Florida Classical Review

By Lawrence Budmen

Clarinetist David Shifrin performed with pianist Asiya Korepanova Friday night at the FIU Wertheim Concert Hall.

“German and French Treasures” was the title of the concert presented by the FIU Music Festival and Friends of Chamber Music on Friday night but the evening’s real treasure was clarinetist David Shifrin. A longtime member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and director of Chamber Music Northwest in Portland, Shifrin’s mastery of his instrument is matched by rare artistry.

Asiya Korepanova was his musically expressive piano partner and the live but warm acoustic of the Wertheim Concert Hall perfectly complemented this program of intimate gems from the solo clarinet repertoire.

Schumann’s Fantasiestucke is usually heard on the cello but the composer conceived the work originally for clarinet. The work’s melodic flow is more effective on the wind instrument, particularly when played with the fluency and artistry of Shifrin. He spun the lyrical pages of the first movement almost like a lieder vocalist, the tone woody and burnished. The leaps between registers in the lighter second movement were smoothly contoured. Korepanova seemed to breathe the music with Shifrin, phrasing as one in varied tonal hues.

Brahms’ autumnal Clarinet Sonata No. 2 in E-flat is one of several late works written for clarinetist Richard Mὓhlfeld. Gone are the stormy moments encountered in the symphonies and concerted chamber works, replaced by an elongated stream of inspired melody.

Shifrin brought a finely nuanced dynamic palette, his sound rich and even throughout the instrument’s range. Korepanova assayed Brahms’ large-scale invention with commanding dexterity. The concluding Allegro con fuoco brings one of Brahms’ most memorable themes, both simple and profound in its seemingly inevitable trajectory. Shifriin and Korepanova’s collaborative reading was beautifully textured and well coordinated.

The concert’s second half offered contrasting stylistic patterns of French wind composition.

Francis Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata displays the populist influences of Les Six, the group of French composers who fused classicism with the vibrations of pop, music hall and cinematic music. The second theme of the initial Allegro tristamente could easily have come from the background score of a spy thriller.

Shifrin played the lively proliferation of tunes with just the right touch of wit and lightness while maintaining pristine articulation. The Romanza is almost a French chanson. The haunting principal theme was delineated with smoothness and song filled grace and the recurrent glissandos tossed off with ease. Korepanova svelte touch was perfect for Poulenc’s breezy finale with Shifrin playing at top speed. This jazzy confection was greatly entertaining.

Ravel and Debussy represented France’s impressionistic side. Korepanova took the solo spotlight for “Ondine” from Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. She drew an array of bright colors from the keyboard in the soft opening. Her variations of volume vividly pictured the ocean where the water sprite Undine dwells. Mixing strong technique, virtuosity and subtlety to winning effect, Korepanova gave an atmospheric reading embellished with distinctive shape and turns.

Debussy’s Syrinx was written as an unaccompanied three-minute flute piece. Shifrin played a transcription that worked remarkably well. The more mellow tones of the clarinet result in the score turning more into an impressionist portrait rather than a mere exercise.

Without pause, he launched into Debussy’s Première rhapsodie. At once both Gallic and Asian-tinged, this score showcased Shifrin’s idiomatic musicality, devoid of overt flash, ably abetted by Korepanova. For an encore, the duo gave an even more exuberant reprise of the final romp from Poulenc’s sonata which garnered a standing ovation.

Friends of Chamber Music presents the Ehnes Quartet playing Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge and String Quartets Nos. 1 and 9, 8 p.m. December 16 at the FIU Wertheim Concert Hall in Miami.

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