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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Clarinet Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 120/1 [21.52]
Clarinet Sonata No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 120/2 [20.09]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Violin Sonata (arr. for clarinet by Shirley Brill) [16.33]
Shirley Brill (clarinet)
Jonathan Aner (piano)
rec. 2015, Sendesaal, Bremen, Germany

Clarinettist Shirley Brill and pianist Jonathan Aner have both pursued successful solo careers and appeared with leading international orchestras. Since 1999, they have also performed together as the Brillaner Duo, visiting the USA, Asia, Australia, Israel and many European countries.

In what is now commonly referred to as his Indian summer of creativity towards the end of his career, Brahms composed both the clarinet trio and the clarinet quintet in 1891. Three years later in 1894, there followed a pair of clarinet sonata scores written especially for Richard Mühlfeld, a virtuoso clarinettist and principal of the Meiningen Orchestra, whose playing had been an inspiration to the aging composer. Brahms also transcribed the two scores for viola and piano and the versions are virtually identical. These two masterpieces were Brahms’ permanent farewell to chamber music.

Shirley Brill has prepared an arrangement for clarinet and piano from Janáček’s score of the original violin sonata, written in 1914 at the start of World War One. Janáček said of it, “in the 1914 sonata for violin and piano I could just about hear the sound of the steel clashing in my troubled head”. Janáček had previously composed violin sonatas when studying at Leipzig Conservatory in 1880, and later while studying in Vienna, but much of his chamber music from this time, including two violin sonatas, is now lost.

The sound quality here really lets down this release; it is over-close and doesn’t completely fit into the sound picture. In forte passages, especially from the piano, there is uncomfortable distortion at the peaks; on headphones, at several points to my ears the sound was unbearable. Shirley Brill is clearly an outstanding performer and plays brilliantly, but it is difficult to judge the quality of pianist Jonathan Aner’s accompaniment, owing to the loud forward placement of the piano in the recording balance. Overall, although it offers an attractive programme, its problematic sound means that this album cannot be recommended. It’s a shame that a real opportunity to hear some splendid music has been lost here.    

Michael Cookson

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