This is a most interesting and thought-provoking disc by Michael Collins
and Michael McHale. It not only brings us Brahms’ two late masterpieces but
also two works from an unjustly neglected Romantic composer, Carl Reinecke.
On the evidence of these fine recordings his music should be better
The Brahms sonatas have long been a mainstay of the Romantic clarinet
repertoire and justly so. These two fine works, along with his Clarinet Trio
Op. 114 and the Clarinet Quintet Op. 115, both dating from 1891, were
composed after a period of relative compositional inactivity, in what some
have described as an ‘Indian summer’. All four of these works were composed
after the composer had stated that his compositional career was at an end,
yet after a visit to Meiningen, where he heard the clarinettist Richard
Mühlfeld perform, he was inspired to compose once again, showing in the Trio
and Quintet, that he had not lost any of his ability as a composer. In the
next couple of years Brahms composed four sets of pieces for solo piano,
before in 1894 he wrote to Mühlfeld, saying that he had completed “two
modest sonatas with piano”. Mühlfeld and Brahms gave the first private
performance in September 1894 before the public premiere which took place
the following January. Rather than the musings of an old man, these are
inspired pieces and full of invention and rank amongst his finest chamber
works. Brahms clearly studied the instrument as well as having discussed its
capabilities with Mühlfeld. His writing uses the full range of the clarinet,
from the higher register in the opening Allegro appassionato
Sonata No. 1, to the mellower sounds of the instrument in the final
Andante con moto
section of Sonata No. 2. The performances here are
excellent and stand up well against the versions by Thea King (Hyperion CDA 66202
) and Gervase de Peyer (Chandos
Where this disc really wins is in its coupling. We hear two works by Carl
Reinecke, the German composer, conductor, pianist and teacher, who is
probably best known as the man that Liszt chose to teach piano to his
daughter Cosima. Liszt described Reinecke’s pianistic touch as “beautiful,
gentle, legato and lyrical”. I don’t have that much of his music on CD, but
that’s mainly because despite his being a prolific composer there is a
limited choice of recordings from which to chose. What I do have I tend to
like. His music is deeply Romantic in style showing the influence of both
Schumann and Brahms, but it does not lack in either individuality or
One of his most individualistic pieces is Undine
composed as a Flute Sonata. It is recorded here in the composer’s own
arrangement for clarinet and piano. Undine is a female water-spirit in the
literary works of the likes of E. T. A. Hoffmann and whilst the work cannot
be regarded as programmatic, there is much that is water-like about it.
There are sections of the piano writing that give a rippling effect whilst
for the clarinet there are short phrases that remind me of Smetana’s
from Má Vlast
. It is a substantial four movement
work that offers the listener a great deal of enjoyment. It has not been
served that well by the record companies, with this recording being only the
second that I know of. It has fared slightly better in its original format
for flute and piano, the other being by Oliver Dartevelle on Naxos 8.570181.
Whilst the Naxos has a lot to offer, this present recording is a clear
winner, Michael Collins’ performance is more spirited and has greater
panache than that of Dartevelle, and the recorded sound is better too.
The final piece is the short Introduzione ed Allegro
, which bears the dedication Herrn Musikdirector
, which clearly links it to the two sonatas of
Brahms. Though short it packs a lot into its eight or so minutes. It is
highly virtuosic piece which I imagine would be taxing for most players. It
shows just what a talented player Richard Mühlfeld must have been. As with
, I prefer the Collins performance. His virtuosity wins
through over that of Dartevelle on Naxos.
These are excellent performances and the two musicians show a real
understanding of each other and of their place in the music. The performance
is backed up by Chandos’ usual excellent recorded sound and informative
booklet essay - a winner all-round.
Another review ...
Since Brahms was inconsiderate enough to write only two clarinet sonatas, the question on CD inevitably arises as to how the disc is to be coupled. Here an imaginative solution is found in the shape of Reinecke’s Introduction and Allegro,
written seven years after the Brahms sonatas and dedicated to the same player, Richard Mühlfeld, for whom Brahms had written those late masterpieces. To round out the disc we are given Reinecke’s own arrangement of his Undine
sonata, written originally for flute and comparatively more familiar in that guise, but which fits equally well on the clarinet and indeed sounds as if could have been originally conceived with it in mind.
Michael Collins and Michael McHale perform all the works here peerlessly, and the recording in the familiar Chandos acoustic of Potton Hall is everything that one could expect. The booklet note by Nicholas Marston neatly links the work of the two composers, and are provided complete with French and German translations. What more could we possibly want?
Oh, and this imaginative coupling is unique in the catalogue, too, as far as I can tell. Indeed there seems to be only one other recording of Undine
in its clarinet version, and that Naxos release comes with a very different coupling of other chamber works by Reinecke which feature the clarinet as a constituent of the ensemble.
Paul Corfield Godfrey