Richard Stoltzman covered vast areas of clarinet music last night in the Terrace Theater of the Kennedy Center. From the "Abyss of the Birds," by Olivier Messiaen, which he once described as "terrifying," to a tribute to Benny Goodman, the King of Swing, Stoltzman moved with sure fingers and a total command of the resources of his instrument that was as astounding as always with this extraordinary musician.
Messiaen's unaccompanied solo comes from the "Quartet for the End of Time," written 40 years ago while the composer was a prisoner of war in a German stalag. Fortunately for clarinet players, there was a distinguished clarinetist in the camp whose playing inspired Messiaen, as, last night, the music led Stoltzman into sublime moments.
Debussy's First Rhapsody, written for one of the examinations at the Paris Conservatory, profited, as did the entire program, from the exquisite pianism of Irma Vallecillo. As she did in the jazz, Vallecillo achieved veiled timbres that sounded impressionistic in Debussy and ideally muted in songs Goodman made famous.
Both musicians moved on the highest level of artistic compatibility in the F Minor Sonata of Brahms and Weber's Duo Concertante. Stoltzman, like certain other rare performers, insists upon true pianissimos where composers ask for them, making you wonder why others often feel that they must "play out" in spite of the markings. But not every player can control the whispered tones that enhance a Stoltzman concert.
The Weber was a vivid essay on the whole spirit of the first half of the 19th century. Its virtuosity brought down the house in a way that was matched later when the audience burst into applause immediately after a rapid-fire chorus of scat talk from the be-bop era. The concert was another example of the brilliance that is becoming standard fare in the Terrace Theater series. Tonight: Elisabeth Soderstrom.