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Brahms: Clarinet Sonatas Nos 1 & 2 etc

Michael Collins (clarinet), Stephen Hough (piano) (BIS)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Clarinet Sonata Nos 1 & 2; Violin Sonata No. 2 (arr. M Collins)
Michael Collins (clarinet), Stephen Hough (piano)
BIS BIS-2557 (CD/SACD)   63:22 mins


Michael Collins has already made a fine recording for Chandos of the Brahms Clarinet Sonatas with his regular duo partner Michael McHale (not to mention an earlier one on Warner with Mikhail Pletnev), yet there is certainly room for this vividly engineered new release. With the eminent Brahms interpreter Stephen Hough, Collins brings special musical insights to these two late works. Notably, they triumphantly solve the interpretative conundrums posed by some of the composer’s equivocal performing directions. A good case in point is the closing section of the opening Allegro appassionata of the F minor Sonata, during which the stormy outbursts that dominate the movement subside into a melancholy passage marked Sostenuto ed espressivo. Some interpreters slam on the brakes too readily at this point, whereas Collins and Hough wind down the tension gradually so that the final ghostly bars, anticipating the first of Brahms’s Four Serious Songs, sound exceptionally poignant. Just as impressive is their treatment of the ensuing slow movement which maintains the composer’s prescribed Andante tempo but contains a sufficiently subtle level of rubato to accommodate his qualification that it should be performed un poco Adagio.

There are innumerable delights elsewhere, not least Hough’s capacity to make Brahms’s thickly scored piano writing sound so playful in the thrilling finale to the F minor, and the autumnal glow of Collins’s tone during the reflective passages in the outer movements of the E flat Sonata. An added bonus is Collins’s transcription of the A major Violin Sonata which actually sounds just as idiomatic on the clarinet as in its original incarnation.


Erik Levi