Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115; String Quartet in B flat, Op. 67

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115; String Quartet in B flat, Op. 67
PERFORMER: Boris Rener (clarinet); Ludwig Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554601
Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet is too beautiful for any recording to be quite satisfying. The ‘classic’ version was made by the Busch Quartet with Reginald Kell in 1937, and Kell recorded it again with the Fine Arts Quartet in 1952. Taste in styles of woodwind tone is a very personal thing, but Kell’s smooth sophistication now seems rather bland, and a more interesting sound is made by Sabine Meyer in a much more recent version with the Alban Berg Quartet, coupled with Brahms’s Second String Quintet, perhaps the finest of all his string chamber works. The Third Quartet on Naxos’s new version is certainly less appealing, and even less so in the Ludwig Quartet’s rather emphatic but under-characterised performance. The real thing – subtle, tonally refined and affectionate – is the New Budapest Quartet’s recording of all three string quartets on Hyperion. That group might have been ideal if it had recorded the Clarinet Quintet with a comparably mellow wind-player, but it hasn’t. Boris Rener is a young clarinettist who studied in France with Philippe Cuper, whose recording with the Talich Quartet of both Brahms and Mozart Quintets is on Calliope; recorded at a concert, yet with not a rustle from the audience, Cuper and the Talich radiate a quiet warmth and wisdom which make Rener and the Ludwig seem, by comparison, immature. The Ludwig doesn’t seem to be inside this music at all, and though Rener is technically perfect and an exceptionally tactful chamber player, there’s really no contest. The Naxos recording, though, is excellent. Adrian Jack