Brahms: Clarinet Sonata in F minor, Op. 120/1; Clarinet Sonata in E flat, op. 120/2; Clarinet trio in A minor, Op. 114

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Summit
WORKS: Clarinet Sonata in F minor, Op. 120/1; Clarinet Sonata in E flat, op. 120/2; Clarinet trio in A minor, Op. 114
PERFORMER: Amici
CATALOGUE NO: DCD 219
This disc provides a logical and useful coupling of three of Brahms’s most autumnal works, written at the very end of his life and full of wistful and mellow music. The underrated Trio in A minor, much less frequently heard than the Clarinet Quintet, is a lovely piece and arguably represents the pinnacle of achievement for this combination. The performance by Amici is excellent and, in some ways, more balanced than that of the King/ Georgian/Benson trio in which some of the playing is polarised by the coolness of the clarinet against the almost overheated passion of the cellist. Amici’s performance brings these two instruments closer together, giving a more uniform stylistic approach. Their most controversial aspect is an unusually slow third movement where, although they infuse the music with considerable charm, the tempo seems too ponderous, especially as it follows the Adagio. In this respect, King, Georgian and Benson are far more convincing. In general, my only reservation is that the Amici clarinettist uses an excessively fast vibrato which gives the impression of contrived expressiveness and results in a sound which is perhaps fashionable in other schools of playing but is certainly alien to me.

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The two sonatas are very beautifully shaped and performed with obvious commitment, but are also subject to the rather individual clarinet sound. This view is, of course, entirely personal, and may well be acceptable to or even welcomed by other listeners. Leaving this issue aside, the recording has much else to recommend it. Tim Payne