Johannes Brahms: Clarinet Sonatas and Trio. © 2019 Centaur Records Inc

CD Spotlight

Tonal Brilliance

Brahms clarinet chamber music,

'... Brahms' incredible score is done full justice in this recording, which shows the best of the composer's last years and the glories of Romantic chamber music.'


Having intended to retire from composing in 1890, Brahms composed his Clarinet Sonatas out of love for the instrument's potential and his admiration for the soloist Richard Mühlfeld, with his break from composing lasting but a year. It was his writing for the clarinet, including a Trio, that would be among his last works as he approached his last years and his creative impetus dissipated. The sonatas express a range of sweeping, encompassing Romantic ideals, perfectly suited to the instrument; all crafted with Brahms' masterly grasp of counterpoint and melody.

This recording by Marie Ross encapsulates the way that a performer should 'create colours and shape notes in the way I imagine necessary for the music', as she puts it in the sleeve notes. The first sonata, in F minor, is based around the same expressive melody at the beginning, and maintains the appassionata intended from the start. Brahms wrote it in 1894, a year before its first performance, and just three years before his death, yet there is not a great amount of lugubrious reflection, despite the impassioned tone. The sprightly Vivace closes the work with exuberance.

Listen — Brahms: Vivace (Clarinet Sonata in F minor)
(track 4, 4:47-5:39) © 2019 Centaur Records Inc :

The second, from the same year, in E flat major, has much the same tone, of fierce, Romantic urgency mixed with a plaintive, inner momentum. The first movement, Allegro amabile, is expertly crafted by Ross' smoothly serene playing, and the contrast with the less measured sound on the 1875 Steinway piano from Petra Somlai.

Listen — Brahms: Allegro amabile (Clarinet Sonata in E flat)
(track 5, 5:41-6:40) © 2019 Centaur Records Inc :

The whole recording is performed on historical instruments; there is a certain modern trend for doing this with Brahms, which is commendable, given the fact that there are ample records for creating a historically accurate performance from his time in the late nineteenth-century, and the scene in which he was composing is more accessible than that of, say, Bach, with whom it is an ongoing matter of debate as to how his music can be performed today with necessary veracity to both musical style and historical trends. These performers manage to create a sound that owes much to both that of the original score and the technical brilliance that Brahms requires whilst keeping a truly engrossing, beautiful sound. The third movement, con moto, has an effervescent amiability that a sonorous E flat major is seemingly most able to produce, with a fitting finale.

Listen — Brahms: Andante con moto (Clarinet Sonata in E flat)
(track 7, 7:22-8:22) © 2019 Centaur Records Inc :

The Trio introduces the cellist Claire-Lise Démettre, and her playing starts the first movement, which carries on in much the same musical vein as the first part of the disc. The second movement creates a spellbinding conversation between the clarinet and cello, with the deeply sonorous instruments, backed up by the protruding piano, creating a wholesome harmonic effect.

Listen — Brahms: Adagio (Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano)
(track 9, 8:11-9:03) © 2019 Centaur Records Inc :

This continues in the third movement, Allegro grazioso, which is followed by the contrasting emotions of the final Allegro, of boisterous energy, and elgiac reflection, before its determinedly minor ending.

Marie Ross' delicate tone is full of tonal brilliance, reflecting what she describes as the 'true aesthetic of the past' that she aims for in using historical instruments. Although a more varied tone throughout would have been welcome, Brahms' incredible score is done full justice in this recording, which shows the best of the composer's last years and the glories of Romantic chamber music.

Copyright © 4 May 2020 Patrick Maxwell,
Buckinghamshire, UK






 << Home              Next review >>