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Len Mullenger:


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 allegretto.

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.

David Wright  



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