Brahms: Piano Quartet & Clarinet Trio

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Onyx
WORKS: Clarinet Trio in A minor, Op. 114; Piano Quartet No. 2 in A, Op. 26
PERFORMER: The Nash Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 4045

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These are beautifully expressive, thoughtful performances of two unalloyed masterpieces, presented with all the sonic excellence and distinction that we’ve come to expect from Onyx’s series of recordings with the Nash Ensemble. It makes a fine companion to their previous disc of Piano Quartets Nos 1 and 3 which I reviewed some months back.

On this disc though it’s the account of the Clarinet Trio which especially impressed me, partly due to the refinement and subtle colouring of Richard Hosford’s clarinet playing. The middle movements especially strike me as outstanding, with a wonderful sense of regret and melancholy in the Adagio.

The A major Piano Quartet is poised, robust, effortlessly lyrical, yet I found this performance – I hate to say it – just a little more routine. Precisely because this is a predominantly serene work, and a long one, there is less for the players to bring out compared to the angst of the G minor and C minor. (This was my feeling in the recent Capuçon-Caussé-Angelich double album of all three quartets on Virgin: magnificent overall but the A major less striking than the other two.)

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Of course it’s beautiful playing throughout, with excellently pointed rhythms in the scherzo and finale, but the overall impression is not as satisfying as some rival issues (such as the classic Philips recording of the Beaux Arts Trio with Walter Trampler, recently reissued on PentaTone). And the truth is that the competition in both works is multititudinous, and strong. But the disc is perfectly recommendable, especially for the Clarinet Trio. Calum MacDonald