Brahms: String Quartet; Clarinet Quintet

COMPOSERS: Johannes Brahms
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms: String Quartet; Clarinet Quintet
WORKS: String Quartet; Clarinet Quintet
PERFORMER: Sharon Kam (clarinet); Jerusalem Quartet


The A minor is undoubtedly the most lyrical of Brahms’s String Quartets, a work permeated by melancholy and inner reflection that is somewhat reminiscent of Schubert’s famous quartet in the same key. The Jerusalem Quartet emphasise this Schubertian connection in an interpretation that displays breathtaking homogeneity of ensemble, subtle textural control and marvellous fluidity of nuance. At the same time, I wonder whether the ensemble’s focus on the deeply introspective aspects of the music somehow limits the work’s range of expression. The Mandelring Quartet, on Audite, for instance, achieve a more dynamic impact.

The Jerusalem’s introverted approach seems more obviously suited to the autumnal hues of the Clarinet Quintet. In a performance once again distinguished by its absolute unanimity of ensemble and masterly textural transparency, a number of passages stand out for their sheer beauty of sound, in particular, the opening and closing sections of the Adagio. These are so mesmerising, they give one the sense that time has almost stood still. Throughout, Sharon Kam takes infinite care to blend her wonderfully mellifluous clarinet line within the string texture, rather than opt for a more soloistic approach. Some might feel that the final climax of the first movement, and the melismatic Hungarian lament in the Adagio, need to be even more highly charged. On the other hand, Kam and the Jerusalems are simply following Brahms’s instructions to the letter, holding the dynamic levels in check.


Erik Levi