> Grand Duo: Selections of German music for Clarinet and Piano [NH]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826) Grand Duo Concertante Op. 48 (1816)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Phantasie Stücke Op. 73 (no date given)
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963) Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1939)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Sonata in F minor Opus 120, No.1 (1894)
Håkan Rosengren, clarinet
Anders Kilström, piano
Recorded in Helsingborg Concert Hall, Sweden, 7th - 9th October 1996.


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I knew next to nothing about this Swedish label and, indeed the artists recorded here (although Rosengren has appeared on Sony Classical), until listening to this disc. However, if this release is typical of the quality produced by either then I would like to hear much more. The subtitle of "selections of German music for clarinet and piano" didn't exactly have me on the edge of my seat in anticipation but, in this case, I probably should have been. Not only are the performances and recording superb, the music chosen is suitably varied yet thematically consistent in offering an excellent and appropriate overview of the development of the form in the "German tradition", while reminding us of, say, Hindemith's debt to Weber, not only but certainly not least in his celebrated Symphonic Metamorphosis. It also celebrates, in Hindemith and Brahms, two composers who have often been, unfairly as far as this listener is concerned, on the receiving end of what is known as a "bad press". Some of the creators of the greatest musical turning points in the early 20th century owe a great debt to Brahms (Charles Ives and Carl Nielsen, both truly essential and charismatic figures, would have been nowhere originally without him, and the same goes for the composer who kick-started the British revival, Charles Villiers Stanford). As for Hindemith, I would contend that he is, in many ways, just as significant as the ubiquitous Stravinsky (Mathis der Maler, Ludus Tonalis, Nobilissima Visione etc., masterpieces all).

Anyway, diatribe over, what about the music? Weber's Grand Duo, which gives this CD its title, is very much indebted to his operatic background. The booklet notes, which, incidentally, are excellent, focus on its "spontaneity and brilliance" and it is an inherently dramatic piece. In the third movement, the music is suggestive of a "mock-sinister episode" from Der Freischütz. A virtuosic work then that is absolutely not background music.

Robert Schumann is probably one of the composers this listener is least temperamentally disposed to but the Phantasie Stücke are no doubt masterpieces of their kind, lyrical if ultimately slight.

Hindemith's Sonata was written as the storm clouds of the Second World War gathered over Europe. It sits alongside a number of other sonatas composed around the same time (harp, violin, trumpet etc.) and its four sections last for the best part of twenty minutes. It is beautifully put together and wears a generally optimistic tone considering when it was first realised. Yet another piece that defies the description Gebrauchsmusik (functional music) to which Hindemith's detractors perpetually refer, and one whose lyricism, at times, I swear, could have been penned by Finzi (or at least Martinů!). It is very pastoral in inspiration, anyway, perhaps a musical equivalent to Hesse or Mann's literary "montane idylls" (before the descent into chaos and carnage?).

On to Brahms, then, and I would say at the outset that this masterpiece, written only three years before the composer's death, should appeal to anyone who loves, say, the flowing, tumbling but often melancholy lyricism of Herbert Howell's equivalent piece. The booklet notes in fact make a strong case, to which I would subscribe, for this and the other late clarinet pieces (Quintet, Trio etc.) representing Brahms' greatest achievements in the chamber music field. The performance featured here does everything to enhance that viewpoint and the disc as a whole is a superb achievement. A testament to the dedication and artistic integrity of the protagonists and a worthy tribute to, in particular, the unique talents of Brahms and Hindemith.

Neil Horner

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