Brahms; Moscheles; Schumann

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COMPOSERS: Brahms; Moscheles; Schumann
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms; Moscheles; Schumann
WORKS: Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115
PERFORMER: Nash Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: WH Live 0007
In 1890, Brahms wrote to his publisher, Fritz Simrock, announcing his intention to retire. Yet within just a few months, he would return to the drawing

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board, inspired by the clarinettist Richard Mülfeld to write, among other works, the Clarinet Quintet that’s recorded here.

It may seem unlikely that the growing crop of live recordings should produce a benchmark version of any particular work: either you treasure a favoured recording of a work for many years, or you buy a souvenir of a concert you’ve enjoyed, or a representation of one you wish you’d heard, and play it a few times until the next one comes along. But this dichotomy is challenged by the Nash Ensemble’s glorious Wigmore Hall performance from last October of the Brahms. Slip-free and cough-free – if there were any post-concert retakes they’re skilfully integrated – it’s entirely suitable for repeated listening. And it’s a thoughtful, supple reading marked by a wonderful sense of teamwork, with Richard Hosford’s fluid clarinet subtly embedded in the overall sound, and some magical string sonorities, especially in the muted slow movement. By comparison, the Emerson Quartet on DG seem reluctant to temper their habitually rich sound to David Shifrin’s more modest clarinet. And, while Thea King and the Gabrieli Quartet on Hyperion are better integrated and always imaginative, their analogue recording now sounds a little on the hard side.

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With some typically imaginative Nash programming, the Brahms is complemented by Schumann’s delightful Fairy Tales for clarinet, viola and piano, and an enjoyable rediscovery by Mendelssohn’s mentor Ignaz Moscheles, based on a Bohemian folk song. Fine performances, especially from pianist Ian Brown – though the close miking of his instrument seems to shut out the lovely Wigmore acoustic which is part of the raison d’être of this excellent series. Anthony Burton