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  • Helen Gramotnev


As one of the last concerts in the 2023 Brisbane Music Festival program, “Ten of Swords” could be renamed into “Best for Last.” This concert features two vastly different sets. First, Blue Stocking, featuring Alison Paris and Chloe Hasson, is a Brisbane duo of guitar and vocals that you will definitely want to invite to entertain at your next event. And then, Dario Scalabrini and Francis Atkins close the concert with a clarinet/piano duet that boasts unity and magnetism normally found in far older musical duos.

Blue Stocking is a duo born from the genuine love for classical and art music, comprising of soprano (Paris) and classical guitarist (Hanson). The duo draws its inspiration from traditional and 70s folk music and centers its current program around Tarot cards – a writing challenge designed to compose about more abstract ideas.

Artists have to continually reinvent themselves to stay ahead of the game, and Blue Stocking is a perfect example of young talent pushing boundaries while staying true to their loves and ideas. Their work is varied and engaging, with enticing harmonies, soothing voices, and real, everyday themes in their songs: speed dating, rental crisis, difficult relationships, trust in oneself, and the paradox of having multitude of ideas eventuating into nothingness.

The second half of the concert turns to classical music as the clarinet/piano take us through an assortment of “fantasy” pieces – works designed to engage with an array of emotions in a true Romantic fashion. Beginning with Robert Schumann’s Drei Fantasiestücke, Op. 73, we are carried through melancholy (underlined with the crispness of the clarinet melody), the cascading passages of playful interaction between piano and clarinet, to flirtatious euphoria of the finale.

But the highlight for me is Fantasy on Themes from La Traviata by Donato Lovreglio, where the stories of the characters are retold through a cheeky interplay of the conversation between piano and clarinet. The elegant and familiar melodies of the voices of Verdi’s masterpiece resonate in the soulful sounds of the clarinet, then to be picked up by the piano into a swerving waltz. There is a beautiful coherence between Scalabrini (Clarinet) and Atkins (Piano), who feed off each other like a seasoned performing duo, from time o time “winking” at the audience, and always keeping a beautiful balance between themselves. Bravissimo!

To finish off, the duo presents a contemporary classic from Elena Kats Chernin, titled Grand-Rag. Piano and clarinet are equal partners in this piece, where the entire range of emotions is explored in a virtuoso ‘rag’. Going from light and flirty, to somewhat unsettled, to dark and broody sections, until finally the clarinet solo passage resolves the piece into its original rag theme. The weightless elegance of clarinet juxtaposed against the crisp precision of the piano makes this an uplifting and inspiring piece to finish off with, and to round off the overall fantasy theme characterized by a great emotional range.

Unexpected, engaging, and refreshing is (once again) the way to describe this fabulous festival that we look forward to every year.


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