Brahms-and-Rota is unusual programming. Still, some light can
be shed on why Leslie Craven has chosen it, given that it is,
as I write, still the centenary year of Rota’s birth, in 1911.
To pair two works by him with the canonic, ‘autumnal’ clarinet
sonatas of Brahms shows the novel and the canonic in fine collaboration.
Craven is the principal clarinet of the orchestra of Welsh
National Opera and some esteemed colleagues join him for this
bipartite journey. Rota’s Sonata was written in 1945. It’s a
calm, largely unruffled and very lyrical work, refulgent in
places and reflective. The central movement is wistful with
a small degree of contrasting unease – though I don’t find in
it the sombre and brooding quality that Craven suggests in his
notes. With an undemanding finale, which balances the opening
mood well, the work ends in emollient warmth. I find it rather
‘samey’ as a sonata, with insufficiently drawn contrastive material,
but Craven and Michael Pollock play it adeptly.
For the 1973 Trio, Craven is joined by cellist Stjepan Hauser
and pianist Yoko Misumi. Here the keynote is loquacity, with
constant interchanges between the instruments and brief half-exhausted
soliloquy before the chatter restarts. Unlike the largely sedentary
sonata there is an increased energy quotient in the later work,
although a compromise is reached, an entente that re-establishes
order in the lovely, though not wholly untroubled central movement.
Skittishly, the finale mines some Prokofiev-like gestures to
end on a high.
Both works offer a contrasting side of Rota, the one calm and
withdrawn, the other chatty and voluble.
The Brahms sonatas, once again with Pollock, are cogently argued
and tonally distinctive. Tempos are sensible, and tempo relationships
similarly. Requisite wistfulness is brought to bear on the slow
movement of the F minor whilst the same sonata’s Allegretto
is pertly pointed, Pollock plays a full part, his appassionato
playing in the central movement of the E flat major being a
case in point. Craven, as he notes, is an adherent of the idea
that when Brahms marks crescendi, interpretatively he wishes
the phrase concerned to have considerable rubato. These are
warmly textured and enjoyable performances. There were times
when I wished the piano had been fractionally closer in the
balance, though otherwise things are fine.