Here With You
Brahms: Clarinet Sonata Nos 1 & 2; Jesse Montgomery: Peace; Weber: Grand Duo Concertant
Anthony McGill (clarinet), Gloria Chien (piano)
Cedille CDR 90000 207 67:15 mins
Jessie Montgomery’s Peace is a pandemic work. But don’t let that dreaded word put you off. This brief and haunting work, infused with the atmosphere of an unsettled dream, speaks beyond current circumstances. It is, writes the American composer, about making peace with sadness. And this is already Peace’s second recording, after the original violin-and-piano version appeared on Elena Urioste and Tom Poster’s The Jukebox Album (Orchid Classics). Heard here in a version for clarinet and piano, Peace is infused with the atmosphere of an unsettled dream and played with sheer poise by clarinettist Anthony McGill and pianist Gloria Chien.
The Montgomery work is an emotional pivot, too, taking us from bittersweet Brahms to joyful Weber. There are plenty of recordings of Brahms’s two clarinet sonatas, written during the unexpected blossoming in the autumn of his career, but this one has a lovely warmth. McGill and Chien have long been musical partners, and a sense of deep connection in their playing. It’s a shame the piano doesn’t have more gleam or sound more forward in the recording, but McGill’s sound is pure eloquence. It brings to mind Brahms’s description of the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, the clarinettist who inspired these pieces: ‘the nightingale of the orchestra’.
Weber also had a particular clarinettist in mind when he was writing his Grand Duo Concertant in E flat. Heinrich Baermann was principal clarinet of the Munich Court Orchestra, and judging by the demands of this piece, quite the virtuoso. McGill tackles it with aplomb and exhilarating skill.