Brahms: Cello Sonatas and Clarinet Trio

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms: Cello Sonatas and Clarinet Trio
WORKS: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2; Clarinet Trio in A minor
PERFORMER: Michael Collins (Clarinet); Paul Watkins (Cello); Ian Brown (Piano)

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I can’t think of a better way of presenting Brahms’s Cello Sonatas than with the darkly passionate Clarinet Trio, especially when played by three such rewarding artists.

They get under the skin of this long-limbed melancholy masterpiece, performing with a lovely flexible sense of timing. Collins floats exquisitely limpid lines in the graceful, contrapuntal Adagio, allowing it effortlessly to unfold. The always sensitive Ian Brown brings his velvety sound to the minuet and trio, which moves easily into its delightful ländler episode. Watkins is warmly spontaneous, unleashing ardent melodies without fuss. It is only in the Allegro that I sensed a lack of forward drive, some overly deliberate gestures and a bright hardness to Collins’s sound in the forte passages, though he brings a huge range of colour overall.

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Watkins and Brown’s traversal of the Sonatas share that supple rhythmic flexibility. The E minor’s opening is big-boned and generous, with a sense of depth and spaciousness that gives the piece an almost orchestral scale. The final fugue is perhaps too steady for my taste. Their tendency not to drive forwards makes the Allegro vivace of the Second Sonata less exciting than it can be, though both dive headlong into the development with the first hint of real abandon. Watkins’s Adagio affettuoso is powerfully, and lovingly, delivered, Brown creating a glistening delicacy as a foil. The high-voltage scherzo is a little stolid, redeemed by the sweetness of their trio. No one for me has matched the inspiration of Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough’s recording (Hyperion) but this is a fine addition. Helen Wallace