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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Complete works for clarinet

Trio for clarinet, cello and piano in A minor, Op.114 (1891) [25.42]
Quintet for clarinet and string quartet in B minor, Op. 115 (1891) [35.15]
Sonata for clarinet and piano in F minor, Op.120 No.1 (1894) [23.18]
Sonata for clarinet and piano in E flat major, Op.120 No.2 (1894) [21.38]
Deborah de Graaff (clarinet)
Len Vorster (piano)
Georg Pedersen (cello)
Members of the Mozart Piano Quartet: Natalie Chee and Hannah Perowne (violins), Hartmut Hartmut Rohde (viola), Peter Hoerr (cello); (Quintet)
Recorded January 2001 (Trio), May 2001 (Sonata No. 1), October 2001 (Quintet), January 2002 (Sonata No. 2) at Studios 301, Sydney, Australia
ABC CLASSICS 472 672-2 [2CDs: 60.57+44.56]


Brahms wrote all these his works late in life. By 1891 the 58-year-old composer had retired from composition, but his admiration for the playing of his friend Richard Mühlfeld, a former violinist in the Meiningen Orchestra, persuaded him to write what are now regarded as being among his finest chamber compositions. The Quintet is a masterpiece a contemplative, autumnal work, in which the broad, optimistic perspectives of the younger Brahms are replaced by a reflective melancholy particularly suited to the clarinet. The Sonatas and Quintet, have rarely been absent from major record catalogues, and today there is a choice of outstanding performances to which, I am sorry to say, this set cannot be added.

These are accomplished players, but a closed, unfocused recording does them no favours, too closely recorded to blend well with either piano or strings, and not surprisingly there is a certain amount of key-clatter. In all of them the clarinet has an important share in the counterpoint and the harmonic, as well as melodic, development of the music, and in places tends to sound curiously detached from the ensemble. In parts of the Sonatas de Graaff seems audibly stressed, when her playing comes dangerously close to stridency and her intonation insecure, particularly in the high register. In Sonata No.2 the choice of tempi is wayward, as in the Sostenuto section of the second movement (marked Appassionato, ma non troppo Allegro in my score and given as Allegretto appassionato - Sostenuto in the insert booklet)where the haunting, song-like tune marked piano ben cantando in my score is treated as a plodding ¾ hymn with disastrous effect.

The players are more at home in the Trio, where the music unfolds naturally and poignantly, with constantly shifting harmonies. The passages where clarinet and cello interweave are highly effective. In the Quintet, however, the self-assertive strings do not treat de Graaff kindly. The delicate arabesques shared between them and the clarinet in the, Adagio are handled almost casually, disturbing the unruffled surface of this wonderful movement. Here also, as in the Sonatas, de Graaff’s tendency to introduce a swelling of the tone in the high register is superfluous to requirements. These comments are of course subjective, but for me it all adds up to several performances short of an extra rehearsal or two. As any student knows these works take a long time to reach a mature interpretation: on these discs the potential is there, but too many golden opportunities are missed for me to rate them highly.


Roy Brewer



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