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Brahms • Jörg Widmann: Clarinet Sonatas; Intermezzi

Jörg Widmann (clarinet), Andras Schiff (piano) (ECM)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Brahms • Jörg Widmann
Brahms: Clarinet Sonatas in E flat major and F minor*; Jörg Widmann: Intermezzi
*Jörg Widmann (clarinet), Andras Schiff (piano)
ECM 4819512   62:47 mins

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These musicians have been performing Brahms’s clarinet sonatas for many years, and the mutual admiration between them goes way back. Jörg Widmann’s Intermezzi, dedicated to András Schiff, reflects their bond on a deep level. These are nothing if not enigmatic, embodying as they do Widmann’s concept of what an intermezzo is: ‘the mystery that follows upon a sound, and the anticipation of the sound to come: it is this space in between that constitutes, for me, the essence of music.’ Hence the ‘intermezzo’.

The first of these is, at 46 seconds, epigrammatic in its brevity, its notes floating in the ether in a manner reminiscent of Morton Feldman. The second feels like Brahms deconstructed, and the third, forming the set’s centre of gravity, is shot through both with Brahmsian melodiousness, and with that distantly thundering bass which is his trademark in the late Intermezzi.

As Erich Singer points out in his liner note, the clarinet sonatas only exist because Brahms met Richard Mühlfeld and was ravished by his sound. ‘The clarinet cannot be played more beautifully,’ he said, calling Mühlfeld ‘the nightingale of the orchestra’ and ‘my prima donna’. The coolly chiselled contours of the opening Allegro appassionato in Op. 120/1 are allowed to catch fire majestically, and the Andante lazily delineates its landscape. The opening movement of the second sonata unfolds with laid-back authority, and the Variations feel like a voyage of exploration. No farewell to chamber music could be more eloquent.

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Michael Church