Clarinetist Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer and pianist Hans
Eijsackers present a well-conceived program. The main course
consists of two sonatas by Brahms, in very fine readings. For
dessert, the curious and adventurous get the bonus of a sonata
by Rheinberger. It is fairly conservative and lacks the musical
freedom of Brahms. Still, it is something that you might consider,
even if you already have recordings of the Brahms.
Brahms certainly knew what he wanted when he ordered the two
sonatas inside his Op.120. The musicians here decided to invert
the order, and I must say it works both ways. The festive finale
of the First serves as a perfect exclamation mark. The
Second Sonata is more evenly sunny and amiable, more
compact and unified in mood. Its first movement is dreamy and
very melodic, airy and fragrant. The ensuing passionate Scherzo
frames a solid, confident Trio, where the piano sounds quite
organ-like. The last movement, a slow-movement-and-finale-in-one,
is composed as a set of variations. Brahms was a great master
of this form. The music passes through grandiose and intimate
pages, gradually building to a jubilant ending.
The First Sonata starts amid somber hues. The opening
movement is dramatic and tempestuous – practically the archetypal
Romantic Allegro. The slow movement flows with serene
beauty, much like its equivalent in the Clarinet Quintet.
It is all milk and honey – sensual and tender. This is followed
by the Allegretto grazioso, an elegant waltz, sweet and
sunny, which embraces a more lyrical Trio section. The finale
is vigorous and happy.
If Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger is remembered today, it is mostly
due to his numerous compositions for organ. Yet he wrote a lot
of other music, much of it for various chamber combinations.
His Clarinet Sonata starts in a promising way, almost
Schumanesque. Then the composer dives into a rather academic
process of building a musical structure. Brahms was inspired;
his clarinet sonatas may contain a lot of typical Brahms, but
they are definitely far from the typical clarinet sonatas. Rheinberger
seems more the artisan in comparison.
The first movement starts with melancholy and longing. It has
a certain balletic air – or maybe I just imagine this due to
its main theme’s resemblance to the opening theme of Swan
Lake. The music sports dramatic outbursts and lyrical cease-fires.
It grew on me after several hearings. Still, I have this feeling
of a badly tailored costume: too tight here, too free there,
and not comfortable overall. The middle movement is not slow:
Andante molto, with an animated narrative of the clarinet
over fast rolling waves of the piano. The arrangement is rather
uniform and unadventurous. The finale is pretty operatic, with
some bravura passages and hard pressure. Counterpoint plays
an important role.
Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer shows good control of the instrument.
He has excellent legato, and can be very soft when needed.
This helps to create an autumnal aura in the Brahms. In Rheinberger,
the clarinet sound is often shrill. This can partially be explained
by the general high tessitura, but I feel that the clarinet
sound is generally less polished in this piece. The musicians
demonstrate good coordination and balance. Their tempi and dynamics
are superbly judged; they are never in a rush.
The main shortcoming of this disc is the piano sound. There
seems to be nothing wrong with the playing of Hans Eijsackers,
per se. However the recorded sound of the piano, especially
in the low register, is hollow and weak. There is a “stomping”
effect which leads to the accompaniment being ragged; not very
terrible, but certainly noticeable. I can’t say whether this
is the fault of the instrument or of the recording engineering.
Aart van der Wal provides a very interesting essay for the booklet.
It tells us more about the composers and the music than you’ll
find in the average liner-note, and also gives you food for
Summarizing, I have really warm feelings towards this disc,
but I can’t really say it’s gold. There exist versions of the
Brahms that aren’t worse but have better piano sound. As for
the Rheinberger, it is quite forgettable. Still, I feel that
the musicians reached to the strings of my soul. And that’s
what it all is about, isn’t it?