One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider


paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas
All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews
Symphony No 1
Portrait of Ned Kelly



Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Discs for review may be sent to:
Jonathan Woolf
76 Lushes Road
Essex IG10 3QB
United Kingdom



Round Top Festival



Quintets for Clarinet and Strings
Johannes BRAHMS
Quintet in B minor for clarinet and strings, Op.115 (1891) [38:37]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Quintet in A for clarinet and strings, K.581 (1790) [30:37]
Håkan Rosengren (clarinet)
Chiara Quartet
rec. Festival Hill, Round Top, Texas, January 2005 and January 2006

This issue puzzled me when I saw it. The packaging is professional enough, but I'd never heard of the record label, and the disc hasn't an order number. If you suspect a home-grown production, your instincts are quicker than mine, and you're right. The International Festival-Institute at Round Top, in Texas, was "founded in 1971 by world-renowned concert pianist James Dick" - according to its website, It describes itself as "an internationally acclaimed European-styled music institute for aspiring young musicians and distinguished faculty." The disc looks like a private issue by the festival, though I couldn't find any mention of it on the site - and, for what it's worth, I notice the artists themselves hold the copyright.

The choice of program for this lead-off release suggests that Round Top has Marlboro-style aspirations as a training and performance center for chamber music. On the strength of this disc, it looks like the festival is well on the way to realizing those aspirations. These players aren't household names, but they all have respectable international credits, and their performance of the Brahms quintet proves tonally as well as interpretatively distinctive. 

It's not easy for a clarinetist to stand out from the general recorded run these days, and not just because of the abundance of fine players: digital recording seems somehow to favor the instrument, to flatter its attack and overtones, bringing out its expressive capacity with striking realism. Håkan Rosengren's distinctive gift is a lightly touched "sub-tone" or echo tone that, like a fine singer's mezza voce, allows for some beautiful, nuanced shadings in the Brahms. Of course, such an effect could, like that mezza voce, become cloying or pallid if overused, but Rosengren deploys it sparingly, reserving it for such phrases as at 5:09 of the first movement. Otherwise, he is a capable technician and a musical artist with a good feeling for the long, arching phrase. Rosengren's uppermost notes, as at 6:00 of the Adagio, threaten to turn piercing; fortunately, this remains only a threat. 

Turning to his collaborators, most string quartets tend toward an overall sonority that is either predominantly bright, like the Guarneri, or predominantly dark, like the old Italiano. But the Chiara Quartet, recently artists-in-residence at the University of Nebraska, vary the balance of chiaroscuro elements across the working range, whether consciously or instinctively. The shining first violin suggests a reserve of depth; the dusky cello has markedly bright overtones; and the middle voices adjust their timbral balances accordingly. This particularly benefits Brahms's counterpoint, which here sounds awash in a variety of tonal colors; yet the homophonic passages sound remarkably unified. 

The hint of roughness in the string tone, the sort of thing that other quartets assiduously smooth away, may also surprise you. The Chiara players are never coarse or inaccurate - the pitches are well-centered, the interplay of voices sensitive - so this is clearly a deliberate choice on their part, rather than a symptom of technical shortcomings. The touch of rawness lends the lyrical passages a rustic character that suits them, while adding a bracing edge to recurring accompaniment figures such as Brahms's driving, pulsing triplets. 

In the resulting performance, all these musicians' best instincts come into play. In the opening, the strings underline a disturbed undercurrent - customarily underplayed in favor of a reflexive "autumnal" warmth - while the climaxes later on are noticeably taut. Rosengren begins the Adagio introspectively, the return of the first-movement motif leading to a more turbulent interplay with the strings. The start of the intermezzo-like Andantino serves much the same function within the overall structure as does the corresponding movement of the Second Symphony. That and the finale's main theme can sound flat-footed or square; here, both these passages sing and "breathe" naturally. This intelligent, alert performance is a pleasure. 

After this, the Mozart disappoints. It sounds inhibited: the phrasing remains purposeful and musically guided, but it felt as if the dynamic range was deliberately being reined in, perhaps out of an erroneous perception of Classical style. Whatever the reason, the results are genial, relaxed and too subdued. Only in moments like the big arpeggiated flourish near the start, where Rosengren can't help releasing his sound, does the performance spring fleetingly to life. 

Veteran collectors will find this worth tracking down and hearing for the Brahms. If you just want a single edition of this program, though, you'd be better off finding the Decca coupling by the Vienna Octet members - sensitively rendered, with impeccably cultivated tone and handsome recorded sound. 

Stephen Francis Vasta




Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

Eloquence recordings
All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Recordings of the Month

September 2022
Nikolai Medtner
Herbert Blomstedt
Tarrodi Four Elements
Secret Love Letters
Lisa Batiashvili

August 2022

Louis Caix d'Hervelois

orchestral songs



String Quartets

la folia



July 2022

John Luther Adams Houses of the Wind
John Luther Adams
Houses of the Wind

Horneman Alladin
Horneman Alladin

Stojowski piano concertos
Piano Concertos 1 & 2

Vaughan Williams on Brass

Yi Lin Jiang - Dualis I




Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.