It isn't news that Anthony McGill is a masterful clarinetist, but his recital Sunday evening for Music in the Valley still surprised. The pristine technique, the breadth of tone coloring, the expressive richness of phrasing -- all of these gifts seemed more impressive than ever.
The chief take-away from the concert is that the New York Philharmonic is awfully lucky. McGill, who has been co-principal clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for a decade, was just appointed the Philharmonic's principal. (For another opportunity to hear the artist in our area, note that McGill will perform the Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets with the Pacifica Quartet Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center.)
The other lesson from Sunday is that McGill's accompanist for this recital, Christopher Shih, could have enjoyed a fine career as a pianist if he had not chosen to become a gastroenterologist instead. Shih, winner of the 2011 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs (among others), fulfilled his duties here with consistent polish and sensitivity.
A nicely compact program covering about 150 years of clarinet repertoire gave McGill ample opportunity to demonstrate his interpretive range.
In Weber's Grand Duo Concertante, that meant effortless bravura in the outer movements and, surely reflecting his years at the Met, a great singer's sense of phrasing in the aria-like Andante. The latter also brought out the best in Shih, who balanced elegance and drama to keen effect.
The clarinetist sculpted Debussy's Premiere Rhapsodie superbly, alternating gossamer articulation with brilliant virtuosic flights. Shih again offered attentive support.
Poulenc's Sonata seemed to grab both musicians. Right from the start, their performance sounded spontaneous and vital. McGill tapped into the strain of melancholy that haunts the otherwise buoyant first movement, and produced exceptionally poignant phrasing in the soulful second. The finale found clarinetist and pianist maintaining terrific fire and tension.
Classy music-making all the way.
Presented by St. John's Episcopal Church in Reisterstown and performed either in the church or, as was the case with this recital, the church hall, Music in the Valley has developed an admirable track record of quality artists in its first seven years. The 2013-2014 season wraps up with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Jonathan Carney and friends June 15.