An entire evening of unaccompanied clarinet might seem a rather arcane affair, but David Ocker’s recital at Old Venice City Hall displayed a surprising degree of variety.
Ocker clearly enjoys his work, and his good-natured enthusiasm proved infectious, as listeners eagerly absorbed the pedantry of Gaetano Labanchi’s Three Studies. Ocker plays with facile technique and superb dynamic control and produces an unusually rich, full sound. A flute sonata by Bach testified to Ocker’s fine breath control, though he tended to articulate rapid notes with unsettling harshness and his tone became a bit strident in the high register.
With the exception of the Bach, all of the works Saturday evening proved highly idiomatic. None was more aptly suited to the instrument than Ocker’s own Four Pieces for Solo Clarinet, which takes full advantage of the instrument’s range of pitch, dynamics and color. Each movement displays clear thematic unity, and a refreshing variety graces the entire work.
Three compositions allowed Ocker to share his sense of humor. Actual footage of some family movies from the early ‘60s forms the basis for Fred Paroutaud’s “Home Movies.” Combined with Paroutaud’s clever sound track (which features Ocker), the ineptly filmed video becomes a delightful comedy.
“Oedipundle VI,” a theater piece by John Steinmetz, has Ocker (playing offstage) parodying the mannerisms of so much contemporary clarinet music, while Dee McMillin, pretending to play the instrument, acts out the frustration caused by every clarinetist’s nemesis--the fickle reed. The droll humor of Arthur Jarvinen’s “Goldbeater’s Skin” for clarinet and ratchet went on a bit too long.
Although Donald Martino’s “Set for Clarinet” has carved a place for itself in the repertory, this listener finds the frenetic doodling rather tiresome. Ocker nonetheless delivered the three movements with conviction and swashbuckling virtuosity.