Martin Fröst's long-term project entitled 'Genesis', launched last season, explores the impact of various dance forms and folk styles on classical music through the ages, and this was very much the inspiration for Thursday evening's concert at Cadogan Hall.

Martin Fröst © Mats Mats Bäcker
Martin Fröst
© Mats Mats Bäcker

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields opened with a powerful rendition of Britten's Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge, revelling in the microscopic world of classical dance forms which are encapsulated in this string of gems. After a suitably weighty introduction, the solo quartet allowed the main theme to unfold with a natural warmth and tenderness whilst also emphasising the haunting waltz-measure of the material. The contrasting Adagio and March episodes were crafted with a keen ear for their similar arc-like dynamic structures and this was followed by a crystalline performance of the Romance which floated along effortlessly.

The subsequent movements revealed consummate concerto soloists in the boisterous Aria Italiana and a wonderfully crisp and graceful contribution from director Tomo Keller in the Bourée classique. After the bassy humour in the Wiener Walzer, the thrilling Moto perpetuo was brought off with virtuosic élan, yet also with a weight of sound that made a visceral impact. The intensity of expression never let up through the Funeral March and the gossamer-like textures which surrounded the reprise of the main theme in the Finale were impressively transparent.

Fröst joined the string players on stage for a performance of Copland's Clarinet Concerto which moved from a beguiling bittersweet lyricism to foot-stomping, bass-slapping riffs. In 1951, Jerome Robbins adapted this concerto for a ballet entitled The Pied Piper and this sense of fluid physicality was not only encapsulated in the gentle melodic lines that weave between the clarinet and strings in the first movement, but could also be seen in the balletic form of communication between Fröst and his fellow string players. This was also reflected in the way that Fröst suspended the music from an invisible wire with a broad spectrum of tone colours that sounded nothing less than effortless.

Both soloist and ensemble displayed a mesmerizing sense of dynamic control during the first movement transition through to the cadenza and the result of this journey was the infectious jazz rhythms of the second movement. The sheer fun and entertainment exuded in this finale, especially in the delicious slapping basses that introduce the second theme, lit up the hall and Fröst projected the increasingly virtuosic flourishes with ease, bringing the concerto to a thrilling close.

The second half opened with a performance of Elgar's Sospiri that acted as the quiet centrepiece of this concert. Drawing inspiration from Tomo Keller's flexible style of direction, the players emphasised the more noble qualities of this music with an engaging warmth of sound. Fröst then moved us gently into the folk world of Central Europe through Roland Pöntinen's arrangement of Brahms' Hungarian Dance no. 14 in D minor which projected a certain cinematic sweep in the melodic treatment between solo clarinet and strings.

If the Copland displayed Fröst's virtuosic skills in a jazz-inflected context, then the Bartók and traditional Klezmer Dances turned up the heat to boiling point as a dazzling array of sounds and extended techniques were hurled across the auditorium. In Jonas Dominique's imaginative arrangement of the Romanian Folk Dances, Fröst moved from haunting quarter-tone trills in the third movement Pe loc ('In One Spot') to a boldly exuberant finale.

If the audience thought that the energy levels on stage couldn't possibly reach a higher plane, they were happily proved wrong. After an amusing spoken introduction in which Fröst explained his 'novice' status as an improviser, he then executed two extemporised openings to his brother Göran's arrangements of traditional Klezmer Dances which opened up further vistas of sound. Running the whole gamut of one's aural imagination through a single clarinet, with equally colourful contributions from the Academy's string players, was certainly a new experience for this reviewer and provided a stupendous conclusion to what was a truly joyous evening of music-making.

*****