Review: Emma Johnson at Portsmouth Guildhall

Emma Johnson. Picture by John Batten
Emma Johnson. Picture by John Batten

Digging deep into a classic collection

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Clarinettist Emma Johnson fittingly dedicated her performance of the Brahms Clarinet Sonata to the man who inspired the Portsmouth Chamber Music series – violinist Peter Cropper, who died last week.

His organisation, Music in the Round, and his previous teacher/student relationship with Colin Jagger, now director of music at the University of Portsmouth, have enriched the city’s cultural life, and Brahms’s late masterpiece was perfect for a sad yet uplifting occasion.

In the slow movement the poignancy of Ms Johnson’s expression, burgeoning into lyricism and then a consoling stillness, caught Brahms’s moods exactly – with pianist John Lenehan seemingly both inspiring her and inspired by her.

Weber’s Silvana Variations were most notable for the operatic adagio, and an arrangement of a Chopin nocturne achieved a rare quality of stillness and remoteness.

The Clarinet Sonata by Saint-Saens arguably showed more depth than most of his music, with the high piano writing eerily effective, and Lutoslawski’s Five Dance Preludes powerfully evoked what Ms Johnson called ‘the shades of war’.

In contrast, Bernstein’s Scenes From West Side Story, a virtuoso rendering of America rightly brought the house down.