Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata in F minor for Clarinet and Piano, Op.120 No.1 (1894) [21:15]
Sonata in E flat minor for Clarinet and Piano, Op.120 No.2 (1894) [18:41]
Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op.114 (1891) [23:41]
Hideaki Aomori (clarinet); Joshua Pierce (piano); Daniel Barrett (cello)
rec. January 2008 (Sonatas) and July 2008 (Trio), Queens College, New York
MSR CLASSICS MS1322 [63:40]

The two Clarinet Sonatas and the Clarinet Trio are the golden apples of Brahms' autumn. Their velvety sound and melodic richness are exceptional, and together with their "big brother", the Clarinet Quintet Op.115, they can serve as great examples of what Brahms was all about, if you need to convert a novice.

However, for converting a novice you had better not use this recording.

Most of us are used to walking on flat surfaces. Our streets are covered with asphalt. Imagine walking all day on an ancient pavement of big round cobblestones. Even if you have hard soles, the constant adjustment of the foot position will tire you very soon. The same happens on this disc with the clarinet sound: almost every note is round, starting with an attack (you often hear the mechanics involved), then going deep, then fading. Then the next note comes. This flickering is really tiring for the ear. I think that the opening movement of the Second Sonata is the wobbliest, so listen to it before you buy, if you can.

The effect is not so noticeable in the Trio, but the Trio has its own problem: the cello sound. It does not sing as much as buzz like a big bumblebee. It does not blend well with the clarinet sound.

Putting the sound issues aside, this could be a fine album. The piano playing is confident and supportive, the intonational decisions always sound right, and the recorded sound is very truthful and clear. The performers favor faster tempi and sometimes apply more appassionato and con moto than the recipe requires, which leads to losing the lazy charm of some slower, quieter moments. The liner-notes (English only) are extensive and informative. They cover the historical background, the works and the performers.

Believe me, I tried my best to persuade myself and listened to the disc ten times probably, but I just can't get over this clarinet sound.

Oleg Ledeniov