Brahms: Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115; Clarinet Trio, Op. 114

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115; Clarinet Trio, Op. 114
PERFORMER: Joan Enric Lluna (clarinet), Lluís Claret (cello), Josep Colom (piano); Tokyo Quartet
It makes sense to couple these first two of Brahms’s works written for the intimate performing style of Richard Mühlfeld (‘Fräulein Klarinette’ was the composer’s nickname for him), though in view of the different ensembles involved, it’s not done all that often. Joan Enric Lluna is a fine player, and in the Clarinet Quintet – one of the most profoundly beautiful of all Brahms’s chamber pieces – he’s well supported by the Tokyo Quartet, which seems to be steeped in the idiom of this music. However, Lluna is rather short-breathed in the opening bars of the slow movement, dividing up the serene theme more than is good for it, and he isn’t helped by the boxy acoustic. A warmer account of the piece is offered by Sabine Meyer and the Alban Berg Quartet (EMI), but even they are no match for the famous 1937 recording by Reginald Kell and the Busch Quartet. Despite their slow tempo, Kell miraculously unfolds the Adagio’s entire opening theme in a single breath, and in the gypsy-like central episode he’s more rhapsodic than either Lluna or Meyer. Altogether, Kell and the Busch are hors concours, though it takes a while to get used to their unusually urgent tempo for the first movement. The performance of the Clarinet Trio is enjoyable enough, but there are times when Josep Colom’s piano playing seems a little routine and down-to-earth. Richard Hosford, with members of the Florestan Trio, generally plumb greater depths, and the recording is more sympathetic. Misha Donat