Brahms wrote four major
works for the clarinet in the last decade
of his life, all for the virtuoso soloist
Richard Mühlfeld. Three are included
here in a potentially useful combination
given that the remaining (and, arguably,
quintessential) work, the Clarinet Quintet
Op.115, has usually been paired on disc
with Mozart’s offering in the same genre.
All these works are gloriously autumnal
in feeling and should be in the collection
of every Brahms-lover.
The Clarinet Trio is
conventionally structured in four movements
with the slow movement placed second
and a third movement which has more
the feel of intermezzo than scherzo.
The cello part is important and this
is a rather darker work than the Quintet.
Nevertheless, the adagio is particularly
glorious. Here it receives a very well
played and enjoyable performance, lacking
only the last degree of autumnal glow.
Comparison with Thea King’s version
for Hyperion with Clifford Benson and
Karina Georgian is marginally in King’s
favour; for example there is a greater
feeling of wonder in the opening of
the adagio than is present here. The
just pre-digital Hyperion sound is inferior
but certainly acceptable. A fine version
by Bernard Pieterson and members of
the Beaux Art Trio on a Philips Duo
should also be considered.
In the clarinet sonatas
there is also much fine playing – as
one would expect from principals of
the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (i.e.
Steffens and Quandt). Plenty of refinement
and complete technical assurance is
on offer. These performances reinforced
my view that these works are best heard
in their original form rather than in
the viola transcriptions that Brahms
himself made to increase their accessibility.
Incidentally he also transcribed them
for violin but I have yet to come across
the works in that form on disc. As in
the Trio, the recorded sound is well-balanced
and of high quality. The documentation
is fulsome and given in English, German
There is plenty of
competition in the frequently recorded
clarinet sonatas and choice is likely
to be partly dictated by couplings.
The present programme is apposite and
generous, and the disc recommendable
although not the last word on these
Patrick C Waller