Brahms: Double Concerto; Clarinet Quintet

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Double Concerto; Clarinet Quintet
PERFORMER: Renaud Capuçon (violin), Gautier Capuçon (cello), Paul Meyer (clarinet); Capuçon Quartet; Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra/Myung-Whun Chung
CATALOGUE NO: 395 1472

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I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this performance. It has all the ingredients that should make a thoroughly convincing interpretation of the Brahms Double. There’s absolute unanimity in ensemble throughout the tricky passagework of the outer movements, as well as complete agreement with regard to dynamics, nuance and phrasing – just as one would expect from performers who work together on such a regular basis as the Capuçon brothers.

Yet for all these positive attributes, the interpretation here is seriously flawed. From the very outset of the cadenza introduction to the first movement, both players seem intent on distorting phrases and disrupting the natural flow of the argument. The flabby response from Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra under Myung-Whun Chung and dry recording don’t exactly help matters, and the movement as a whole is sluggish. In contrast, the recent high-voltage account from Julia Fischer and Daniel Müller-Schott on Pentatone Classics is in a completely different league, delivering with a real sense of drive and momentum.

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Fortunately the Clarinet Quintet does not suffer from the same problems as the Double Concerto, although there are moments in the Adagio where the music almost grinds to a halt. Paul Meyer provides a very expressive reading of the clarinet part. At the same time, the Nash Ensemble’s account of the work on the Wigmore Hall Live label has a more homogenous sound with a far greater sense of flow.