Charles Neidich, who won the 1985 Naumburg Clarinet Competition, gave a recital at the Library of Congress Saturday that was characterized by gentle and careful music making. His program, with a focus on the 20th century, featured music by Debussy, Messiaen, Brahms, Berg, Babbitt and Bassi.
Neidich showed off his agility in the concluding salon snippet, a Fantasia on Motives from Verdi's "Rigoletto" by Luigi Bassi, who was one of Verdi's favorite clarinetists. But it was clear from the opening notes of "Abime des Oiseaux" from Messiaen's "Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps" that his preferred mode is a more thoughtful and tender one. Here notes emerged with no apparent attack. His pianissimos were remarkably soft and sustained, and he molded each note, not to mention each phrase, with enormous concentration.
Berg's Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano was more pointed but no less carefully executed, and the Brahms E-flat Sonata Op. 120 No. 2 was equally shaped.
For Babbitt's three-movement "My Ends Are My Beginnings," Neidich found the momentum and sense of direction that occasionally was lost in all the attention to detail that characterized the rest, and he played it with humor and an evident sense of its grand plan.
Pianist Elena Ivanina was a steady and, at times, dramatic partner.