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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonatas for Clarinet or Viola Op. 120
CD 1

Sonata in F-minor Op.120/1 for Clarinet and Piano (1894) [21:58]
Sonata in E-flat major Op.120/2 for Clarinet and Piano (1894) [19:58]
CD 2

Sonata in F-minor Op.120/1 for Viola and Piano (1894) [21:32]
Sonata in E-flat major Op.120/2 for Viola and Piano (1894) [19:45]
Wolfgang Meyer (clarinet); Pierre-Henri Xuereb (viola); André de Groote (piano)
rec. Royal Conservatory, Brussels, 2004 (clarinet sonatas); Hochschüle fur Musik, Karlsruhe, March 2005 (viola sonatas). DDD
Text included
TALENT RECORDS DOM 3810 02-03 [40:56 + 41:17]

Experience Classicsonline


It’s an interesting idea to combine both versions of these sonatas in a single set, especially as each version has its partisans in terms of which instrument better suits the music. However, given that we have here two discs containing a total of 83 minutes of music and that the viola sonatas disc was released separately a couple of years ago one must assume that there is an economic consideration also. Our concern is with the musical comparison, made all the more cogent here by the use of a five-string Gran Viola which can better produce the original clarinet texture.

Wolfgang Meyer begins his rendition of the first sonata in a measured but beautiful fashion, evidently showing all his understanding of the clarinet. The movement is full of delicate rhythmic contrast. Pierre-Henri Xuereb plays the same movement on viola in starker fashion, making it sound more like middle period Brahms. The slow movement finds Meyer unwinding the central theme beautifully, but at a slightly slower tempo than that adopted by many soloists. Xuereb goes for an emotional, driven, reading. I have always felt that the material of the third movement does not lend itself to being played on the viola and this performance bears me out, although Xuereb does everything he can. Meyer seems a little challenged on his disc too but his playing of the scherzo reprise is lovely. The two soloists are most similar in approach in the last movement. Each seems to be aiming for a true vivace and again Meyer exceeds himself in his ability to provide rhythmic contrast. Xuereb shows that he can make the viola sing and the development section of the movement has his best playing of the whole work.

In some ways the tone of the whole second sonata can be summed up in the tempo reading of the first movement: amabile. Meyer certainly sees it this way in the first movement, although he provides some punch too. Xuereb’s opening is more restrained and a little disappointing until the development section when he recovers himself. Both soloists do best with the middle movement. Meyer is impassioned and contrasts the trio nicely with the music around it. Xuereb is quite emotional too, but a little slower than Meyer. In the last movement both soloists seem to be rushing a little. They both distinguish each variation in the movement well, but some of the overall conception is lost.

In all of the above I have failed to mention the third man in these recordings, pianist Arthur de Groote, who is the accompanist to both soloists. Not only does he demonstrate his usual ability but he completely varies his approach according to the instrument he is accompanying and on the rare occasions when things tend to get slow he is there to liven them up. My only complaint is that periodically the sound of the piano overshadows that of the clarinet or viola, but this is a fault that lies mostly at the door of the engineers. Otherwise, sound quality is quite good if rather too sharp. Obviously, this is a set only for the completist, but allowances being made as noted above its performances are noteworthy.

William Kreindler


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