The Piano Quintet, Op. 34, and Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115, are seldom coupled together, yet make a natural and mutually illuminating pairing. The passion and high-pressure lyricism of Op. 34 gives way in Op. 115 not to ‘all passion spent’, but to passion mastered and disciplined by wisdom and experience. On this new release, both works receive performances that understand and warmly identify with Brahms’s intentions: the playing is expressive and there is an obvious love of the music throughout. The Tokyo Quartet players, in both, are a rock-steady basis for the ensemble, and the two soloists – Jon Nakamatsu on piano, Jon Manasse on clarinet – temper virtuosity with a fine sense of their role as an integral part of a chamber group.
I certainly enjoyed the disc and would recommend it to anyone seeking this particular coupling: they are very enjoyable, superbly-played accounts in which there is really nothing to criticise. But rival versions are legion, and some stand out for taking the interpretation of these works to a different level of intense empathy and virtuosity. For example, Lesley Schatzberger (using a copy of the boxwood clarinet on which the work was first performed) and the Fitzwilliam Quartet give a red-blooded, revelatory account of the Clarinet Quintet on Linn that, to its credit, underplays any sense of nostalgia. For the Piano Quintet, try Leon Fleisher with the Emerson Quartet (DG) and, among older classics, Arthur Rubinstein with the Guarneri (RCA), Rudolf Serkin with the Budapest (Sony) and indeed Sviatoslav Richter and the Borodin Quartet (Andromeda): all these have something special that eludes Nakamatsu, Manasse and the Tokyo Quartet, for all their excellence.