Concert Pieces for clarinet, basset horn and piano op 113 and Op114;
Three Concerto duos for two clarinets Op 6;
Sonata for clarinet and piano in B flat op 120.
Hakan Rosengren (clarinet),
Mats Lofving (clarinet and basset horn) Anders Kilstrom (piano).
Nytorp Music CD
9701 (DDD) (70.29)
This is an attractive disc but there is not a lot one can say about it. Apart
from the superior Brahms the music may be only very pleasant but it is very
well played and recorded. The recording is close and therefore gives this
chamber music the intimacy it deserves.
Mendelssohn was a genius. Of that there can be no doubt. While Schubert is
often regarded as the greatest melodist of the time, I think not. Here
Mendelssohn, despite all the trials that he endured, provides some richly
entertaining music which is full of joy. Sometimes the piano part is a little
distant and when the piano part is poor, a problem that Mendelssohn had
occasionally, one wishes it were distant still, the slow movement of the
first trio is the obvious case in point. The opening movement is very refreshing
and the slow movement, despite the piano part, is very beautiful. There is
something very telling about the low notes of the basset horn. The presto
finale of Op 113 is full of joy and it is not trite. The performers are having
a great time too.
I cannot explain it but the second Concert Piece always reminds me of Victorians
in England walking along the prom in Eastbourne. Perhaps it is because of
its glorious open air feel. The opening presto is mischievous and has a humour
that only a sourpuss would not see. The andante is exquisite and beautifully
played and controlled. The finale is rather lightweight and a very quick
The playing is exemplary.
The Crusell are real duos and the intimacy of the clarinets is very obvious.
There are those who say that this instrument is "sexy" and why it was used
in jazz. The American composer, Virgil Thomson, used to say that Gershwin
and Copland, who wrote jazz inspired scores in the 1920s and which featured
the clarinet, were writing "whore house music". A strange remark when you
consider that Thomson, like Copland was a homosexual.
The first duo always reminded me of the old hymn tune All things bright
and beautiful. Crusell's music has not the immediacy or joy of
Mendelssohn. It is more serious, perhaps mellow. There is a dodgy moment
in the finale of the F major duo. But I do like the intimacy and it confirms
yet again that music speaks a language that words can never achieve. There
is something very, very personal in these pieces.
And so to the Brahms. What a glorious piece this is. Late Brahms is unsurpassed
as far as I am concerned. The Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op 115, is truly
one of the few all -time- greats. It is played with affection but not
sentimentality and while I have heard it played better, Janet Hilton and
Karl Leister, for example, this is a very good performance. It may miss the
German seriousness from these Swedish players but that is a minor point.
There are many moments in Brahms which are ultra-special... the final section
of the Alto Rhapsody, that stirring part of the German Requiem, which the
BBC used as the introductory music to their excellent series The Nazis;
a warning from history. This sonata has a privacy its very own as if
Brahms is looking back over his life and the madness of his friend Schumann
and his own very deep love for Clara Schumann. Brahms was a honourable man.
Although he loved another man's wife he was decent and moral. It is these
old-fashioned qualities that are always in his music. Perhaps this is music
for the older music lover. The younger music lovers want the fire of Brahms
as in the First Piano Concerto and that is a tremendous work, vastly better
than the Second, thematically and structurally. But this is the fireside
Brahms, warm, friendly and very, very special.