Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Clarinet Sonata in F minor Op.120 No.1 (1894) [21:41]

Clarinet Sonata in E flat major Op.120 No.2 (1894) [20:25]
Nino ROTA (1911-79)
Clarinet Sonata in D major (1945) [13:09]
Trio for clarinet, cello and piano (1973) [14:36] ¹
Leslie Craven (clarinet) Stjepan Hauser (cello) Michael Pollock (piano) Yoko Misumi (piano) ¹
rec. December 2010, Nimbus Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth

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Both works offer a contrasting side of Rota, the one calm and withdrawn, the other chatty and voluble.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.

Jonathan Woolf

The novel and the canonic in fine collaboration.