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The Art of the Clarinet - Philharmonic Soloists • Clarinet
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Trio in B flat major for Piano, Clarinet and Cello, Op.11 [20:39]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Trio in A minor for Piano, Clarinet and Cello, Op.114 [23:33]
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op.5 [7:50]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Konzertstück No.1 in F minor for Clarinet, Basset-horn and Piano, Op.113 [8:21]
Konzertstück No.2 in D minor for Clarinet, Basset-horn and Piano, Op.114 [8:10]
Peter Schmidl (clarinet)
Madoka Inui (piano)
Teodora Miteva (cello)
Pierre Pichler (basset-horn)
Rec. ORF Funkhaus Vienna (Studio 3) from 17th-19th November, 2002. DDD
NAXOS 8.557232 [68:33]

This CD presents a successful compilation of music that would make for a great concert programme. Opening with the charming Beethoven trio and its most profoundly moving slow movement, the mood is hitched up a few notches to a soulful yet restrained work by an aged Brahms. What follows is a remote, atonal set of four pieces by Berg and for a light-spirited ending, some humorous Mendelssohn tunes.

Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn were all inspired directly by clarinettists, and the CD notes on this topic are certainly worth the read. Especially amusing is the story accompanying the composition of Mendelssohn’s Concert Pieces – in return for the culinary hospitality of the Baermann family, whose son was a virtuoso basset-horn player…"While the Baermanns worked in the kitchen, Mendelssohn completed his composition in the next room".

The Brahms trio is, for me, the highlight of the CD. Directly inspired by the playing of the Meiningen court orchestra principal clarinettist, Richard Mühlfeld, Brahms composed this trio along with two clarinet sonatas and a clarinet quintet. The clarinet and cello are the instruments closest to the human voice, and in Brahms’ trio, this intimacy is heightened by a score that treats every one of the instruments on equal footing. It is, after all, a yearning cello solo that opens the first movement and sets the tone, thereafter providing the driving thread that stitches together the ever-shifting moods. The connection between the clarinet and cello is never more tender than in the Andante grazioso about which the musicologist and friend of Brahms, Eusebius Mandyczewski, said "the cello and clarinet sound as if they were in love".

The Czechoslovakian clarinettist, Peter Schmidl, is an undoubtedly accomplished musician. He is the current principal clarinettist of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and his solo career is no less impressive. It is therefore a shame that he is let down by a timid piano and cello who seem almost frightened of him. Most obviously in the Brahms trio – my favourite! – where all the instruments are conceived with equal importance, the cello in particular fails to sing out and opts for a ‘safe’ rendition that treads very carefully and refuses to assert its voice.

Even though the Hyperion recording, with Thea King (clarinet), Katrina Georgian (cello) and Clifford Benson (piano), is less accurate, their performance has more soul, and the cello and piano a greater presence that gives an altogether more emotional and involving interpretation.

Neither do I find the Berg item totally satisfying. Dedicated to his former teacher Arnold Schönberg, Berg denied his Romantic inclination and composed these four pieces in strictly atonal style. I am not suggesting that music that sits with difficulty on the ears need necessarily be played in a difficult manner, however I find this recording too delicately executed. A more suitable alternative, for my tastes, is a recording made by Herbert Tichman (clarinet) and Ruth Budnerich (piano) that is almost uncomfortably vulnerable with its harsh, unforgiving acoustic and piercing clarinet tone. Not as polished, perhaps, but certainly with an edge.

Ending on the Mendelssohn buffoonery – music that belongs to the dramas of early silent movies! – makes for a nice, innocent rescue from the esoteric territory of the Berg pieces.

In summation: a safe recording of a wonderful run of pieces. An enjoyable listen.

Aline Nassif


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