Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Clarinet Trio in B flat major Op.11 (1798) [18:53]
Johannes BRAHMS
(1833 - 1897)Clarinet Trio in A minor Op.114 (1891) [24:35]
Max BRUCH (1838 - 1920)Eight Pieces Op.83 (1910) [25:15]
Leslie Craven (clarinet); Stjepan Hauser (cello); Yoko Misumi (piano)
rec. December 2010, Wyastone Concert Hall

Romantic Trios is the title of the disc, which focuses on central German repertoire, and is played by the Craven-Hauser-Misumi ensemble. Their Brahms Trio is fluent and sensitively shaped. Tempi are sensible, and the execution highly musical all-round. There’s a certain gemütlich quality here, a relaxed Viennese warmth that sees integration and conciliation as essential features of the music. It means that the playing is watchful, quite reserved in places, emollient and consonant. If your yardstick in this work is the famous old recording by an eminent predecessor of Craven’s, namely Reginald Kell, then you may find the newcomer’s performance too lacking in engagement, too recessive in the cello statements, and missing sheer variety of clarinet articulation and tone. That said, the Kell-Frank Miller-Horszowski 1950 recording was very dryly taped, and allowed Miller’s cello in particular an invasive, assertive role that Stjepan Hauser never seeks to replicate. One senses that the newcomers are more in the line of Karl Leister, Georg Donderer and Christoph Eschenbach, whose DG standby is rather more expressively and timbrally in their line. Craven’s smooth legato is more in the Leister tradition, I feel, than in Kell’s highly personalised, ever-varied approach to colour and tone. That said, the Dinmore trio are not quite as coy (good!) as Leister and his colleagues in the Andantino. That said, they do match the Viennese for containment of contrast in the finale. On its own terms, then, this is a warm, lyrical, attractively self-effacing account.

The Beethoven Trio is straight, solid, and once again very musical. Again, it’s not especially effusive or expressive, though I did very much like the ‘music box’ sonorities that Yoko Misumi evokes at the end of the opening Allegro. My only small reservation here is the rather cool approach to the cello’s opening phrases in the central movement. When Frank Miller played it, again with Kell and Horszowski, he made it sound like the most impassioned Aria imaginable. Even further back clarinettist Luigi Amodio recorded it on 78s with cellist H. Schroder and pianist Siegfried Schultze; their performance is more clement and legato, showing another, perhaps more popular approach. Hauser, though a fine player — he’s now very popular as part of a sexy two man cello ensemble — is rather too withdrawn, for my own tastes, and the ensuing duet, for cello and clarinet, is therefore less engaging than it might be.

The disc ends with Bruch’s Eight Pieces. They can be played as a set, as here, or cherry-picked as they are in concert performance, quite rightly. Fortunately the set has been increasingly popular on disc and this performance adds to the attractive choices on offer. Craven’s instinct for lyricism and tonal breadth is given full rein here. I was very much taken by his phrasing of the Rumanische melodie which Craven vests with powerful melancholy. It ends a most persuasively played and recorded disc.

Jonathan Woolf

A most persuasively played and recorded disc.