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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Two Sonatas for clarinet and piano, op. 120: no. 1 in f minor, no. 2 in E flat
Ralph Manno (clarinet), Alfredo Perl (pianoforte)
Recorded 24 & 27 August 1992, Sendsaal Radio Bremen
ARTE NOVA 74321 27767 2 [45.34] Super Budget


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Sorry to be a pain, but thereís too much that wonít do here. Not that the artists canít play their instruments or anything drastic like that, you understand, and the recording is fair enough, though without any great bloom to it.

Much of it boils down to tempo. Take no. 2 first. The first movement is marked "Allegro amabile" and, however much "amabile" (lovingly) might be thought to qualify the "Allegro", if itís played "Andante", which to my ears it is, something must be wrong. The mellow start is not unattractive, but then the passionate outburst just 15 bars in simply has to move on a little, then the tempo drops back and so it goes on. I donít know if the players have been conditioned by the popular image of the avuncular, ageing Brahms, but whatever he may have looked like his heart beat more youthfully in old age than it did when he wrote his early group of piano sonatas over forty years before. This movement has a surging lyricism of which these players seem unaware, and they make Brahmsís tight structure sound remarkably rambling.

The outer sections of the "Allegro appassionato" which stands as a scherzo go with a fair swing but goodness, what they do with the trio. "Sostenuto", wrote Brahms, and yes, this does mean holding back the tempo, but a holding back that keeps sight of the original tempo, not a new one altogether. The music just has no sense at this crawl, and to make matters worse Perlís conception is more vertical than horizontal, with each chord played separately, as it were, and no singing legato line which alone might have saved the day (Brahms asked for it to be "ben cantando" Ė very singingly). This same chord-by-chord approach makes rather a trudge of the "Andante con moto" which actually goes at a reasonable enough tempo. Having launched the final "Allegro" with some energy, only a page later the team are interpreting "Più tranquillo" once again as an excuse to lose sight of the new tempo entirely.

The first sonata fares little better. The opening "Allegro appassionato" is certainly not that, and Perl is often heavy-handed. At the opening of the "Andante un poco adagio" not enough care is taken by the pianist in enunciating the pervasive rocking quavers, and the clarinettist does not give due weight to the final quaver of the bar Ė small notes make all the difference in Brahms. The remaining two movements are more successful and Manno does obtain something of the graciousness Brahms asks for, though Perl remains heavier in his response, his textures turgid and his rhythms inconclusive.

Not much of a bargain here, Iím afraid.

Christopher Howell

 


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