It's not every day that one gets up close and personal with a bass clarinet. This can be remedied by attending a performance by Boise's own Darkwood Consort.
Sunday, January 16 was a perfect day for a "Nordisk Vinter" concert. Downtown at the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy, Darkwood Consort--Aage Nielsen and Jennifer Drake, a bass clarinet and viola duo--wowed the crowd with a selection of music from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland. The performance covered a spectrum spanning centuries and styles from the merry 14th century traditional Swedish tune "Bereden väg för Herran," to selections from heavyweights like Grieg, to the song "Unisano Lag," translated as "in unison, without meter" and which the group assured us perfectly represented Iceland in the eighties. Darkwood also treated the crowd to "Molbrok," a traditional Danish tune that sounds much like "The Bear Went Over the Mountain," as well as 1287's "Die Tenschen Morder" ("the Danish Murderers"), which Darkwood played while serving as house band for Boise Little Theater's staging of "Dracula."
Though one might expect gravity, even stuffiness, from a classical performance, such expectations were banished immediately by the friendly, informal banter of Darkwood's members. They shook hands with random audience members before the performance began, displayed an easygoing, good-natured impatience with latecomers, frequently joked with the crowd and paused between tunes to give background on each piece. Pronounced "shameless" by Drake, Nielsen also took a moment to share Darkwood's big news--they will perform at the 33rd International Viola Congress in Reykjavík, Iceland--and to plug their Benefit Concert on February 20th. (More information is available at www.darkwoodconsort.com.)
Darkwood Consort's relaxed bearing was by no means unprofessional, just comfortable, and therefore very enjoyable indeed. When they play their music, Darkwood is all business.
Joined at times by Karlin Coolidge on flute and piccolo and Donovan Schatz on bassoon and contrabassoon, Aage Nielsen (bass clarinet) and Jennifer Drake (viola) delivered a rich and full sound.
The first half of the performance was a mélange of traditional songs, medieval pieces and 20th century compositions. Short, varied and always interesting, it was perfect for the Darkwood-uninitiated. There was a stampede during the short intermission to get to the delicious and complimentary snacks provided by the Scandinavian Society of Southwest Idaho. After that it was time to take our seats for the second half of the concert--reserved for Scandinavian composers of note. Saving the best for last, the concert highlight was selections from Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite. "In the Hall of the Mountain King" was Darkwood's final tune of the afternoon, and Aage Nielsen could hardly contain his excitement, announcing that it was "time for the heavy artillery." At the urging of the group, Donovan Schatz briefly stood and displayed his contrabassoon, an impressive-looking instrument that drew appreciative "oohs" from the audience. Anyone familiar with "Mountain King" knows that it builds to a frenzied and satisfying final resolution--much like Darkwood Consort's performance. We clapped until our hands hurt.