Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

BRAHMS Johannes (1833-1897)
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, op. 115 (1891)
String Quartet no. 3 in B flat major, op. 67 (?1875)
Boris Rener (clarinet), Quatuor Ludwig
Recorded at Alençon Auditorium 13-15.2.1999
NAXOS 8.554601 [71.32]

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The clarinet is very mellow-toned while the strings offer a more projected style of playing, emphasised by the brightly forward recording. Also, the tendency of the leader to play fractionally sharp at times counters with the clarinettist’s tendency to be just very minimally flat here and there. This would probably matter more if the performance were of the kind that emphasises the autumnal nature of the music, but since the performers clearly want to stress that the ageing composer still had plenty of red blood in his veins the odd rough edge counts for little. Indeed, if you have a very mellow performance of the work, you might consider paying the Naxos price just to hear it differently sometimes.

You might expect the quartet’s approach, on their own, to be better still for middle-period Brahms but the trouble is that the Quintet is a masterpiece whereas careful advocacy is needed if the listener is not to conclude that the "intellectual" medium of the string quartet drew out the composer’s less gracious qualities. There is more energy than humanity to the playing and the first violin tends to dominate too much. The slow movement should not really sound like a lost movement from a violin concerto and the weakness of the viola line at bb. 23-4 (and bb. 143-4 of the first movement) suggests that they have not really delved into the music more than the minimum indispensable to hold the performance together. I suppose the two violins and the cello are using mutes as requested in the third movement but since the fact is not very evident I have to say they fail to exploit the tone-colour which this implies; there is too much daylight to the sound. The finale seems more of an andante than an allegretto. I appreciate that Brahms has indicated some complicated tempo relationships towards the end and if you start too fast you’ll be in trouble; perhaps with a little more grace this tempo would have worked. The difference between andante and allegretto can be one of character as much as of tempo. Italian words that end in "-etto" and "-ino" always imply a certain smiling affection. Mahler might not have known this but Brahms did.

Rather a lot of niggles. This is not one of those Naxos discs that would go to the top of the list even at full price but it’s a fair bargain.

Christopher Howell.

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