By April Lee
In his junior recital on Saturday afternoon, March 4, in Kulas Recital Hall, clarinetist Alex Swers transmitted a positive energy from the moment he set foot on stage. The big smile on his face matched his enthralling interpretations. Every musical detail was intentional and executed with great command over his instrument.
The opener was Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata with Athena Deng collaborating on piano. From the beginning, it felt as if the long, smooth phrases of “Allegro tristamente” were written for Swers to flaunt his velvety, gorgeous tone. Although the music itself makes it tempting to become overly excited or loud, he never pushed his sound to a harsh level. In the “Romanza,” a gentle lament, Swers carefully held notes at the ends of phrases until they died away. He even changed his timbre to a deeper one reminiscent of an orchestra’s low brass section. In the brilliant, circus-like final movement, “Allegro con fuoco,” Swers’ sensitivity to articulation as well as contrasting dynamics and character was admirable — a fresh interpretation.
Jörg Widmann’s Fantasie is a modern showpiece for solo clarinet with its irresistible technical passages written in the ‘Harlequin’ spirit. And Swers’ flawless execution of flutter-tonguing, glissandos, and multiphonics made these extended techniques seem easy. In addition, he utilized the characteristic sounds of the clarinet’s low and high registers to create color at dynamic extremes. The slow and creeping bass at the start was in stark contrast to the explosive, alarm-like figures at the climax.
Swers was joined by Hyunsoo Kim for Paul Schoenfeld’s Sonatina for Klezmer Clarinet and Piano, the last piece on the program, and equally impressive. Here, we heard the widest vibrato of the program, commonly regarded as an ornament in Klezmer style. Swers felt the abstract rhythms precisely and somehow made the clarinet’s chromatic shrieking sound tasteful. It all ended with rapid zascending and descending glissando flourishes in both the piano and clarinet, Swers’ bell up in the air.
In every moment of his recital, Swers was deeply immersed in his music-making, and the result was received enthusiastically by the audience.