Brahms: String Quartet in A minor
Perhaps no clarinettist around today is capable of floating a purer, smoother, more beautifully contoured melodic line than Michael Collins, and he is often heard at his best in the four late masterpieces that Brahms dedicated to the artistry of the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. In the Clarinet Quintet, especially, Brahms continually shifts the function of the clarinet between leading line, decorative comment and more subdued component of the texture, and Collins’s negotiation of these levels in his latest recording is a masterclass in tone modulation. Only that strange, nostalgic Hungarian rhapsody in centre of the slow movement, in which Brahms seems to yearn for his lost youth, lacks a certain wildness, owing to the choice of unduly slow a tempo for the whole movement.
Founded as long ago as 1972, the Brodsky Quartet has many qualities, but – to this pair of ears, at least – beauty of tone is not foremost among them. Their leader David Rowland, in particular, seems addicted to a very fast all-purpose vibrato, and this tends to impart a febrile edge to their sound, lacking the depth of tone Brahms so often seems to require in his stiller moments. They manage the quick staccato episodes of the third movement of the String Quartet in
A minor, Op. 51 No. 2 deftly enough, and have plenty of drive in the finale – and one exceptional moment of stillness just before the end. But they seem less responsive to the lyrical sadness that seems to tinge so much of the work.