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Album review: Fine Common Ground under pianist Christ Donnelly and clarinettist Kornel Wolak

By John Terauds on May 3, 2013

Chris Donnelly and Kornel Wolak performing in Saskatoon in March.
Chris Donnelly and Kornel Wolak performing in Saskatoon in March.

Yes, it is possible for jazz and classical to get along. Just ask Toronto pianist Chris Donnelly and clarinet player Kornel Wolak, who spent the winter and spring touring Canada’s colder climes and who have just released Common Ground, their début duo album on the Alma Records label.

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.

groundDonnelly is the jazz guy. Wolak is the classical expert, most recently seen in the principal clarinet chair with the Ontario Philharmonic.

The two musicians have known each other for several years, but it’s only recently that the advent of the Donnelly-Wolak Duo has made them reconsider their cross-musical-border relationships.

The album is a best-of selection of their concert repertoire. It’s tempting to lump it in with the easy-listening programming of popular groups like Quarteto Gelato (of which Wolak is an alumnus), but there is something more going on here.

On the album are the first and final movements of Johannes Brahms’ great Clarinet Sonata, Op. 120. The light-fingered Donnelly finds the right gravitas for this music, while never letting it get too heavy. He then turns around and gives a sparkling and touching rendition of Oscar Peterson’s great Hymn to Freedom.

Wolak’s clarinet is pure silk in a medley of tunes from Porgy and Bess, jazzy in Rhapsody in Blue, also by George Gershwin, and virtuosically rambunctious in the pop chestnut Tico-Tico No Fuba.

The eight tracks make for a short visit with this winsome twosome, and the mix of styles speaks directly to lighter summer listening — right for right now.

Wolak and Donnelly launch their disc at the Paul Hahn & Co. piano store on Yonge St. (just north of Ramsden Park, across from the Rosedale subway station) on Saturday at 2 p.m.

For more details on the album, click here.

For a recent interview with Chris Donnelly, click here.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
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