Wigmore Hall, the prestigious venue in London, is staging concerts and livestreaming them. This is a great, and global, service. For my next “chronicle” in the magazine, I have written about a variety of these concerts. Here on the blog, I will write about another.

Julian Bliss was one of the concertizers, in the company of James Baillieu, a South African pianist. I last wrote about Baillieu when he was accompanying Lise Davidsen, the Norwegian soprano, in a recital for the Metropolitan Opera. (For that review, go here.) Bliss is a British clarinetist, born in 1989.

I first wrote about him in 2008, beginning, “Who is the most accomplished teenage musician in the world? There are several candidates, but you could make a very strong case for Julian Bliss.” The clarinetist was then eighteen. In addition to criticism, I provided a little color:

Julian Bliss cuts an interesting figure. On this occasion, he wore one of those solid-black Mao shirts, as they all do. But he wore his untucked. He is a sturdy, pudgy fellow with a side-to-side walk. And when he talks—as he did, charmingly, to the audience—it is not with an Oxbridge accent. He may remind you of a jockey or a plumber’s apprentice. And he is utterly winning.

At Wigmore Hall, Bliss began with a contest piece—Solo de concours—by André Messager. The composer wrote it in 1899, to put clarinetists at the Paris Conservatory through their paces. It is a thoroughgoing test, and delightful.

How did Mr. Bliss fare in it? The soberest judges at the conservatory would have stood up and bowed to him. Bliss issued forth a range of sounds, a palette of colors—all apt. He played “straight tones,” as we would say of a singer, and tones with vibrato. His trilling was beautiful. His soft arpeggios were amazingly fluid. His fingers could do anything (in partnership with his breathing).

He did it all with perfect confidence—almost a casualness, almost a cockiness. I think of a cliché: “unseemly ease.” I also think of an expression from the American street—a boast: “That’s what I do.” In his playing, Bliss seemed to be conveying: “This is what I do.”

He then played another test piece—an examination piece—written by Claude Debussy in 1910: Première rhapsodie. Whenever I mention this piece, I note a curiosity: there is no deuxième, no second, rhapsody. In any event, Bliss gave us more “This is what I do,” more unseemly ease—more beauty and virtuosity.

Then it was Brahms time. Brahms wrote his Four Serious Songs—not to be confused with Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs—for bass and piano. But mezzo-sopranos and others have sung them. And Julian Bliss transcribed them, for clarinet and piano. He loved the songs so much, he wanted to play them. To me, the clarinet sounded wrong in these songs: wrong in register, wrong in timbre. Then there are the words (or lack of them).

But I asked myself: If I did not know the Four Serious Songs at all, would I like them, from Bliss and his pianist? Oh, heavens yes. And I love Bliss’s love of this music. To put it differently: I honor his honoring of the songs.

To close their printed program, Bliss and Baillieu played Brahms’s Clarinet Sonata in F minor. Three B’s! I thought. (Hold on to that thought.) I want to say that this performance of the sonata was “mainstream,” but that sounds like a putdown. What I mean is, the performance was right. The players were not doing anything to the music; they were playing it.

This is how it goes, folks.

Tempos were sensible, phrasing was sensible, dynamics were sensible—“sensible” sounds even more of a putdown than “mainstream.” “Sensible” can equal “boring.” But these players were not boring in the least; they were Brahmsian.

One complaint I have is that Baillieu was sometimes too retiring, too deferential, not giving the piano half of the sonata its due. Yet this was a satisfying performance, all the way around.

The duo played one encore. Beforehand, Bliss told the audience that he was “thrilled” to be playing live music again. “I didn’t think it would hit me quite as much as it did when I walked out onstage.” He added, “It’s been a lot of fun, and long may it continue.”

He further noted that there were three men with the initials “JB” involved in this program: Julian Bliss, James Baillieu, and Johannes Brahms. The encore was another Brahms song—transcribed by Bliss?—“Wie Melodien zieht es.” It is a nice length for an encore, about two minutes, and the musicians played it with unassuming, easygoing, singerly beauty.

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