Review of “Norse Fantasy” in the Portsmouth Menuhin Room concert series

Menuhin Room 11 March 2023: The Monington Duo

I came away from Saturday’s lunchtime concert feeling that this new series of concerts is putting this lovely concert hall back on the Portsmouth musical map. It gives fine local musicians such as the Monington Duo (clarinettist Rob Blanken and pianist Karen Kingsley) a congenial recital venue with its splendid Steinway piano happily released from a ten-year imprisonment in a cupboard!

Their programme was entirely composed of Scandinavian works. Neils Gade is familiar to young pianists as a minor composer, but the liveliness and occasional turbulence of his Four Fantasy pieces was surprising with some lovely passages for the clarinet’s rich chalumeau register in the third piece.

Neilsen, revered for his magnificent symphonies, is not known so well for chamber music and his early Fantasy was a delight, with plenty of virtuoso chances for both players.

Karen introduced each item with wit and verve, and took over in the one well-known piece in the programme, Grieg’s Wedding at Troldhaugen. Though the duet is familiar fare for competent piano duettists, this solo piano version seemed to condense all the boldness and sonority of the 4-handed original. Double octaves were shaken out with ease, yet the revelry was beautifully contrasted with a gentle central section.

A wedding was also central to the programme’s promised ‘surprise item’, a delectably impressionistic Brisingamen by local Portsmouth ex-chorister and clarinettist Andrew Hadfield.  He explained that the title meant the necklace of the Norse goddess Freya and he had composed it for his own wedding.  This was such idiomatic music that surely it should be staple repertoire.

The grand finale was the splendidly Brahmsian Three Fantasy Pieces by August Winding; his experience as a concert pianist was demonstrated in the virtuosity of the piano part.  Lovely music and immediately appealing.

The telepathic ensemble and rich tonal variety of this Duo is very special. Rob’s exquisite tailing-off of expressive phrases, and Karen’s delicate finger-work contrasted with the power that she coaxed out of the Steinway were memorable. 

This is a perfect way to spend a Saturday lunchtime away from the bustle of Commercial Road.  There are real treats in store which you can discover if you leave your contact details with          

Diana Swann

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