WORKS: Clarinet Sonata in F minor Op. 120/1; Clarinet Sonata in E flat Op. 120/2; Fantasy Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 73
PERFORMER: Franklin Cohen (clarinet), Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 430 149-2 DDD
The Op. 120 sonatas were two of the four late chamber masterpieces which Brahms was inspired to write by the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. The composer later made his own viola (and violin) arrangements, and the stringed instrument gives the music a quite different character: darker and more autumnal in mood than the clarinet originals, whose overall impression is of flowing, late summer lyricism. The music should be passionate as well as reflective – both sonatas contain movements marked appassionato – but the response from Cohen and Ashkenazy suffers from a fatal lack of commitment, and elsewhere they are limp, lethargic and short on imagination.
The Tomter/Andsnes partnership provides a much richer musical experience. They are full-blooded in the Allegros, which have bite as well as intensity, and the empathy between the two musicians is quite spellbinding in the slower, quieter passages. Brahms’s grazioso direction in the Allegretto of the F minor is nicely realised, and the variations of the Andante con moto in the E flat sonata are full of expressive variety. They are well recorded too, with Schumann’s Märchenbilder an attractive bonus.
Meanwhile, for the Sonatas played on the clarinet, Gervase de Peyer and Gwenneth Pryor on full-price Chandos (CHAN 8563) are highly recommendable. And EMI should urgently consider a mid-price reissue of de Peyer’s excellent earlier recording with Daniel Barenboim. David Michaels