Brahms: Clarinet Sonata, Op. 120/1 in F minor; Clarinet Sonata. Op. 120/2 in E flat; Clarinet Trio in A minor

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Clarinet Classics
WORKS: Clarinet Sonata, Op. 120/1 in F minor; Clarinet Sonata. Op. 120/2 in E flat; Clarinet Trio in A minor
PERFORMER: Mühlfeld Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CC 0016
‘Nobody’, enthused Brahms, ‘can blow the clarinet more beautifully than this Mühlfeld…’ The ‘polish and almost feminine sensitivity’ of Meiningen court clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld’s playing drew from the ailing Brahms four autumnal masterpieces for clarinet in the years 1891-4 (the omission here is the Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115) .

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From Victoria Soames and her Mühlfeld Ensemble come recordings of the Trio, Op. 114, and the Op. 120 Sonatas. The playing here is competent, never exceptional. Beside Boris Pergamenschikov, most cellists sound workaday in the soliloquy which opens the Trio; pianist Jonathan Higgins lacks Mikhail Rudy’s idiomatic insight, and Michel Portal’s fruity, fulsome clarinet playing (on EMI) leaves Soames sounding undernourished. With eloquent collaboration from Portal and Rudy in the two sonatas, EMI’s fine disc takes pole position in this Brahmsian coupling. Hungarian clarinet virtuoso Kálmán Berkes and Naxos stablemate Jeno´´ Jandó team up in sublime, dark-hued accounts of the sonatas. I’ve heard none better; this duo counterpoise rhetoric with radiance, finding gravity in No. 1 and ethereal balm in No. 2, and all with complete assurance. Kálmán Berkes’s transcriptions, too, are wonderfully played, and with sonics up to the best Naxos standards, there’s just no reason to pay more. Michael Jameson