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“Clarinet Sonatas and Trio”
Johannes Brahms: Sonata in F minor, opus 120, n° 1 – Sonata in E-Flat major, opus 120, n° 2 – Clarinet Trio in A minor, opus 114

Marie Ross (clarinet), Petra Somlai (piano), Claire-Lise Démettre (cello)
Recording: Academiezaal, Sint-Truiden, Belgium (September 9-12, 2018) – 79’55
Centaur #CRC 3760 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English

Classical enthusiasts whose penchant for authenticity will be comforted by Dr. Marie Ross’ introduction of the historical aspects of the clarinet. Just by looking at her vast academic resume gives strong indication of her passion to educate and to elucidate with resolute purity. [Note: she even makes her own clarinets!] Buried inside Johannes Brahms’ vast anthology is an important niche of works grounded by the clarinet: it was German clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld who spirited Johannes Brahms back out of retirement and into the halls of composition with two sonatas and a trio for this pivotal woodwind.

For all three melodic responses, Dr. Ross performs on the two clarinets created by the legendary maker, Oskar Oehler. Inspired by von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto n° 1, Brahms’ Sonatas each possess their own distinctive lining. The Sonata in F minor rests inside a cage of more moodiness which Dr. Ross instantaneously brings forth with undulating swings of crescendo and diminuendo in the opening “Allegro appassionato.” The ensuing passage brings more pensiveness, and Petro Somlai’s piano escapes the dominant landscape during the “Andante un poco Adagio”, but it’s the conclusive A-Flat note held by the esteemed performer that gives the section such a glow. The B clarinet’s higher brassy draft holds boldness and flirtation during the penultimate “Allegretto grazioso”, but there’s also more integration.

The duo’s conveyance of the three movement, Sonata in E-Flat major, has, altogether, a brighter, folksier dimension, and in the first third (3’50 to 4’45) of the “Allegro amabile” we hear a matured dialogue with a high lift of balsa wood-like buoyancy by Dr. Ross. Contrary to what Brahms would think, the music rests upon a lied sleeve with occasional contemporariness. Ross and Somlai evoke an ‘in search of truth and elucidation’ outreach that lovingly closes with kindness…our prayers seem to have been answered. It’s one of the most moving moments on the CD. The “Allegro appassionato” is more opinionated with Mlle Somlai beginning a majestic outreach that’s mollified by clarinet commencement. The movement is a swelling and subsiding of thought with pungent undertones. The final argument (“Andante con moto”) first mats down with a contemplative exercise, only to recoil by a chattier middle that’s pursued with a crowning impish éclat.

Three years the Sonatas’ junior is the Trio in A minor which is, perhaps, the most beguiling of the three compositions. The most distinctive trait is use of portamento, in the like manner upheld by Louis Spohr that was brilliantly featured in the Nagasawa/Bernardini duo inside the Harp and Violin Sonatas. This route is refreshing to visit since it clearly shows there’s a select group of like-minded individuals whose desire it is to uphold traditions and authenticity. Furthermore, cellist Claire-Lise Démettre invests use of gut strings and a Romantic bridge. The piece is invigorating. The A clarinet has a more liberated song line, and it appears smoother and substantively richer in comparison to its family member. Brahms stretched the limits by executing this woodwind’s rage to the fullest.

The “Adagio’s” effective portamento by Mlle Démettre is grand and heavy which is enhanced by intriguing overlapped conversations: it has stimulating intelligence with clean note breaks. Billowed with seasoned ideas, the section constantly centers upon use of revolving phrases, but it’s during the “Andante grazioso” where the listener is given a full read and a witnessing of Brahms’ full-body treatment. In a canonized format, Brahms seems to bring about a keen synthetic outreach, breaking open into an archway of minds and instruments…the sojourn, sadly, must come to an end, but how delightful it is. Suprême! The closing “Allegro” is where all artists tie all of the loose ends together. The moment holds, grabs and enthralls.

Dr. Marie Ross is to be commended on the highest level to bring forth the importance of these works by Johannes Brahms with unconventional wisdom…a refreshing example of how we respect the archives of classical music with utmost and unabashed integrity.

Christie Grimstad




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