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The Romantic Clarinet

01/08/2013
Fine Music (Australia)
Richard Gate
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The Brahms Sonatas for clarinet and piano have always been controversial and it is better to admit that many people simply cannot stand them, finding them banal and devoid of musical interest. Like much of Brahms’s chamber music, they seem more suited to the quiet confines of domestic or chamber performance and accordingly may make little effect in the concert hall. Listening to them this year in June, I found them the ideal music for a wet wintry day. Of the two, the first is probably the most approachable, because of the vigour of the third and fourth movements. Nevertheless, both of them have a quiet melodic charm and are expertly written for both instruments. Heard after the Brahms Sonatas, the Schumann pieces immediately suggest that, even at this late stage of Schumann’s life, inspiration came more easily to him than it did to Brahms. The transcriptions for clarinet and piano of three Brahms songs – ‘Ach, wende diesen Blick’, ‘Es träumte mir’ and ‘Unbewegte laue Luft’ – make pleasant enough makeweights, but it would be heard better in their original form. It would be difficult to imagine more sympathetic and capable performances than those offered here.