Two familiar musical friends and two startling new acquaintances illuminated a program by Annelien Van Wauwe. The Belgian clarinetist, who studied with woodwind superstar Sabine Meyer, was joined in an exciting hour of music-making by pianist Yannick Van de Velde. Performed without an audience, the program was streamed live on Sunday morning from the Philharmonie Essen.

Annelien Van Wauwe
© Philharmonie Essen

Suffice it to say, the two performers excelled in lively, but deeply expressed performances of the two more familiar selections, Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie in B flat major, and Brahms perennial favorite, the Clarinet Sonata no. 2 in E flat major, Op.120 no.2. Van Wauwe’s playing is characterized by a sweeping, woodsy flow, highlighted in the composers’ most virtuosic passages. Van de Velde, too, is a formidable musician, whether weaving a complex texture of ideas and tones with the featured artist or capturing our attention with some robust solo passages of his own. The Debussy ends upbeat and bright, though the clarinet's penultimate note could have been just a little bolder. Van de Velde’s partnership in the Brahms was particularly notable, unleashing a rich romanticism I’d like to hear more often in performances of Brahms.

I was not familiar with Magnus Lindberg’s Acequia Madre for clarinet and piano composed in 2012. The title appears to refer to an irrigation canal in New Mexico. Presumably like an irrigation canal, the work erupts slowly from the clarinet’s low register, bubbling up to a pitch with some marvelous display of Van Wauwe’s dexterity. The drama of this work is quite striking, and at times, Van de Velde looked as though he was reading a Stephen King novel.

Yannick Van de Velde and Annelien Van Wauwe
© Philharmonie Essen

The final work was by the not-so-long-lost composer everyone seems to have discovered at once: Mieczysław Weinberg. The 1945 Clarinet Sonata Op.28 begins with a low warble in the clarinet and breaks into an eastern European waltz. The third movement, opening softly with broken chords, builds to a fury of sound that Van Wauwe, in a post-concert interview in German, called one of the most intense experiences in classical clarinet literature. The smoothness of her tone blended eloquently with the rough attacks in the piano for a satisfying finale.

The concert was interspersed with commentary and interviews with the soloists. In these good-humored exchanges, we learnt that Van Wauwe has recently become enamored with yoga, a practice renowned for its development of breath control. Van de Velde revealed an interest in deep diving which demands mental discipline and understanding one’s limits, all excellent adjuncts to traditional admonitions to practice. For these two musicians, these extracurricular activities seem to be paying off.

This performance was reviewed from the Philharmonie Essen live video stream

Watch the video here