I have my own private impression about Brahms. You may find it
weird but here it is. I see him as an elephant that once had
this Zen dream of turning into a butterfly. He woke up and decided
to do it for real. The elephant spent all day on meadows, watching
butterflies, copying their moves, dancing with them. And towards
the end of his life he could do practically everything they did.
Maybe he even learnt to fly, gracefully waving his big ears.
At least, his soul did.
There is no better supporting example for this view of Brahms
than his two last chamber pieces, the gentle Clarinet Sonatas
Op.120. Their lazy mellowness, hushed pastel tones, generous
melodies can serve as a definition of "autumnal music".
Many sincere thanks to clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld of Meiningen
for inspiring the composer to create them, as well as the Clarinet
Trio and the sublime Clarinet Quintet.
To serve these masterpieces well, one must have a perfect blend
of the two voices, and the perfect intonational control of the
clarinet. One needs also a sense of forward momentum: calm must
not turn into boring! Yet one should savor the serene tranquility
of the quiet moments. One needs the feeling of the overall structure
and the ability to project this feeling to listeners. And we
have all of this in the recording by Mitchell and Leona Lurie.
The piano may be a bit subdued: this recording is the clarinet's
celebration. The instrument gleams and shines like a magnificent
fairy-tale king. This is one of those performances where the
music seems to flow through your body, like vital cosmic energy.
Every corner is round, every note is polished and carefully attached.
The First Sonata's Andante
is sweet and silky. The Second
Sonata's Allegro appassionato
is not hard-driven and does
not stick out of the structure, as it does in some other recordings.
And even when our elephant starts fooling around, as in the exuberant
final movements, the texture is still clear and accurate. It
is like watching two ballroom dancers spin together with perfect
technique, never stomping on each other's toes.
There is only one moment, in the first clarinet's entry of the
First Sonata's finale, where its voice is suddenly shrill. But
then, it is less than a second. I could wish for a more spacious
recording of the piano sound, and for a more articulated presence
of the piano's lower register. But for 1972 it's not bad at all.
The recording of the Brahms sonatas was issued on an LP, but
it was too short-timed for a full CD. So the producer added a
fill-up, another work for clarinet, this time paired with a guitar.
The clarinetist is one of Lurie's former pupils, Richard Lesser.
He was the principal clarinet of the Israel Philharmonic for
35 years. He is paired here with a fine guitarist Jordan Charnofsky.
Another former pupil of Mitchell Lurie is the composer, Daniel
Kessner. Although at some point he changed from clarinet to flute,
and is now a well-known flautist, his intimate knowledge of clarinet
is evident. Dances for Clarinet and Guitar
, written exactly
one hundred years after Brahms' death, are modern and yet lyrical,
very listenable yet not "easy listening music". The
four parts of the suite hold so well together that they could
be named a "Sonata" as well.
In the opening Sicilienne
, the two instruments seem to
have divided the duties: while the clarinet sings, the guitar
does the dancing. The music is slow, with mysterious glimmering
and a sense of a slowly moving pendulum. The dancers move in
circles, rising on their toes and pausing. One of the themes
will reappear in other movements, changing disguises on the way:
look for it! Balkan Dance
is energetic and concentrated.
The steady punctuation of the pulse is gripping. Kessner's Sarabande
spacious, transparent veils over slow arpeggiated steps. The
last movement is Fire Dance
, and Kessner describes it
as "someone dancing on a bed of hot coals". There is
ish rhythmic urgency and rough, jarring
I sometimes felt that the musical content was thin with much
space being covered by few ideas. But this can be OK for dances,
and maybe that's why it's not a "Sonata". Also, there
is a hypnotic effect I can't deny. The music holds its values
and remains interesting on repeated listening. It explores well
the timbral combinations of clarinet and guitar. The performers
are first class; their playing is assured and imaginative. The
guitar is full-voiced. Finally, the recording quality is just
excellent, presenting the two instruments in full 3-D.