Classical: Champion of the clarinet



REGINALD KELL, Jack Brymer, Alan Hacker, Antony Pay, Michael Collins. Britain has produced a remarkable crop of clarinettists. Alan Hacker, whose 60th birthday was celebrated in a concert presented by the Park Lane Group on Monday, seemed to indicate in discussion with the TV director Barrie Gavin that it was advice from a fellow clarinet student that sealed his career: "I'll be the composer and you be the clarinettist." The fellow student? Harrison Birtwistle.

Despite Birtwistle's admonition, Hacker revealed that he would have preferred to play the oboe, having been overwhelmed by the playing of Leon Goossens. An aunt, however, dissuaded him into believing that oboe players died of consumption. As it is, Hacker, one of the most remarkable players of our times, has had to overcome severe disability caused by a spinal thrombosis for the greater part of his career. The wheelchair was always part of the drama. Remember Hacker playing Boulez's Domaines, silently wheeling between music stands in a darkened Queen Elizabeth Hall?

Monday's concert was a long one, reflecting the facets of Hacker's career. From a champion of new music - he was a founder member of the Pierrot Players, The Fires of London and Matrix - he became a pioneer in performance on original instruments of classical and early Romantic chamber music. It was Hacker who made an extended basset clarinet which enabled the lines to be played as originally intended in Mozart's Clarinet Concerto and Quintet. And it was on this instrument that Hacker, joined by the Salomon String Quartet, performed Duncan Druce's reconstruction of a Mozart fragment for Clarinet Quintet K516c.

Hacker's belief that performance on the original instrument brings back a sense of the contemporary was splendidly underlined by Richard Burnett in a somewhat absent-minded performance of some early Beethoven dances on a modern copy of a 1785 fortepiano, with feisty bass delightfully conjuring up the Viennese salon.

Works by friends - Maxwell Davies's The Kestrel Paced Around the Sun, Alexander Goehr's Prelude and Fugue and Nenia, The Death of Orpheus by Harrison Birtwistle - were performed by friends: Jane Manning in particularly robust vocal form, Ian Mitchell, James Holland, Edward Pillinger and Roger Heaton. Young artists also took part, most notably the soprano Sophie Karthauser, who was touching in an aria from Handel's Alcina, though weakly supported by the Salomon Quartet.

Music spilled into the foyer during the interval, with Liria playing topically appropriate Albanian folk music. But it was Hacker's elegant performance of John Cage's early sonata and his sturdy rendering of Mesamides of Crete's Hymn to the Sun - Hacker's calling-card - that left the impression of an artist indomitable of spirit.