Magazine article Gramophone

Music for Clarinet: Duncan Druce Reviews a Range of Discs Presenting Music Both Old and New for Clarinet with Piano, Chamber Group and Orchestra

Magazine article Gramophone

Music for Clarinet: Duncan Druce Reviews a Range of Discs Presenting Music Both Old and New for Clarinet with Piano, Chamber Group and Orchestra

Article excerpt

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Three of these eight discs feature family partnerships. Husband-and-wife Jean Johnson and Steven Osborne give searching performances of the two Brahms sonatas. Initially I wondered whether Johnson was too cool a player to do justice to this passionate music but I soon came round to an appreciation of how both bring out the expressive character of every phrase. The tricky finale of No 1 features exceptional leggiero playing and the final variations of No 2 are beautifully paced. Johnson performs Rozsa's delightful, Hungarian-tinged solo pieces with style and spirit.

The Brahms sonatas also turn up in an interesting programme given by the Austrian Alex Ladstatter and his Japanese partner Keiko Hattori, featuring a fine performance of Berg's Four Pieces. Gernot Wolfgang's Open Spaces is enthralling, with its elaborate flourishes ending with long notes, cast into the void. The Brahms has a natural flow and momentum but lacks the compelling expressive detail projected by Johnson and Osborne.

Brahms's Clarinet Quintet is paired with the Mozart on Maximiliano Martin's disc with the Badke Quartet. He plays the Mozart on a standard A clarinet, without the low 'basset' notes. With a bright tone and sensitive phrasing, this is a most enjoyable performance. I found the Brahms less so, mainly because of the balance between clarinet and violins. It seemed to me that the quartet's violinists needed to be more robust and assertive for this richly scored music.

Also Austrian, Benjamin Feilmair, in partnership with his brother Fiorian, offers an interesting programme crossing the boundaries between classical music and various popular idioms. The performances are robust, and full of spirit and confidence. The Martinu Sonatina is fairly firmly on the classical side of the divide; elsewhere the Feilmairs are able to enjoy jazz inflections (Horovitz), Eastern European folk music (Grgin) and Latin idioms (the Brazilian finale of 'Scaramouche' and the delightful pieces by the Cuban D'Rivera).

Emma Johnson and John Lenehan have devised a sharply focused sequence of works spanning the years before and after the Second World War. There's plenty of variety, from Rota's 1945 Sonata, blithely ignoring any hint of modernism, to the highly original Lutoslawski Dance Preludes. The Hindemith is played most convincingly, with an infectiously light touch. The Prokofiev, originally for flute then arranged for violin, is a tall order for clarinet but Johnson is able to meet the challenge of the tessitura and decorations. …

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