The two Clarinet Sonatas and the Clarinet Trio are the golden apples of Brahms'
autumn. Their velvety sound and melodic richness are exceptional, and together
with their "big brother", the Clarinet Quintet Op.115, they can serve
as great examples of what Brahms was all about, if you need to convert a novice.
However, for converting a novice you had better not use this recording.
Most of us are used to walking on flat surfaces. Our streets are covered with
asphalt. Imagine walking all day on an ancient pavement of big round cobblestones.
Even if you have hard soles, the constant adjustment of the foot position will
tire you very soon. The same happens on this disc with the clarinet sound: almost
every note is round, starting with an attack (you often hear the mechanics involved),
then going deep, then fading. Then the next note comes. This flickering is really
tiring for the ear. I think that the opening movement of the Second Sonata is
the wobbliest, so listen to it before you buy, if you can.
The effect is not so noticeable in the Trio, but the Trio has its own problem:
the cello sound. It does not sing as much as buzz like a big bumblebee. It does
not blend well with the clarinet sound.
Putting the sound issues aside, this could be a fine album. The piano playing
is confident and supportive, the intonational decisions always sound right, and
the recorded sound is very truthful and clear. The performers favor faster tempi
and sometimes apply more appassionato
and con moto
than the recipe
requires, which leads to losing the lazy charm of some slower, quieter moments.
The liner-notes (English only) are extensive and informative. They cover the
historical background, the works and the performers.
Believe me, I tried my best to persuade myself and listened to the disc ten times
probably, but I just can't get over this clarinet sound.