Brahms: Chamber Works
In the musical climate of today it is hard to believe the upheaval and opposition aroused in the mid-1930s by Reginald Kell's adoption of vibrato for the clarinet, which was customarily played 'straight' and rather pale in colour. But his warm, sensuous tone won the approbation of Furtwangler and other conductors and wind players, and soon of the public also; and his approach is now largely accepted as the norm. How can I describe the impact of that Brahms Clarinet Quintet when it was first heard in 1938, with Kell's first dolce arpeggio rising like a benison? That performance, with Kell and the Busch Quartet beautifully integrated and balanced, and with infinitely subtle gradations of tone, became a classic at once, and I for one have always cherished the original 78s. With most, if not quite all, the surface sound now eliminated, it again so entranced me that I gave up trying to make notes and simply sat back to luxuriate in it. In the rapturous love-duet between clarinet and cello in the Adagio of Brahms's Clarinet Trio, Kell's tonal warmth and beauty seem more than ever appropriate. Elsewhere in this work, though, despite his liquid sound and finesse of dynamics he is all but outshone by the eloquent lyricism and passion of that superb player Anthony Pini (listen to his statement of the Allegro's second subject). Together with Kentner's understanding collaboration, never over-assertive but always supportive, an admirably cohesive team is formed, always alive to Brahms's interplay of interest and changes of mood.
Kell is unquestionably the star of the quintet by Josef Holbrooke, a late-romantic with a fixation on Edgar Allen Poe who was, in Frank Howes's words, ''one of life's professional misfits''. Ernest Newman considered that his music represented a ''landmark in the English renaissance''; but it has fallen into total neglect, and frankly I doubt whether the present diffuse work (concocted out of previous compositions in the most extraordinary way) will prompt much revaluation of his status. Nevertheless, it offers great opportunities for cantabile clarinet playing in the central Canzonet and for fluent virtuosity in the finale, and Kell excels in both (though the latter finds weaknesses in the Willoughby Quartet). Not unexpectedly the Weber Concertino, every clarinettist's party-piece, finds Kell displaying, besides an easy technical brilliance, beauty of tone, a charming sense of phrase and sensitive dynamic nuances. Walter Goehr's orchestral accompaniment is clean and fully alert throughout.
The first disc also contains the Brahms Horn Trio with Aubrey Brain (a distinguished and influential player later overshadowed by the fame of his son Dennis) who, as always with him, employed the narrow-bore French horn—he regarded the German-type instrument now universal as ''too euphonium-like'': though the former was more risky to play, Aubrey was uncommonly sure-footed and rarely split a note (never in this recording). This performance starts rather stiffly and cautiously, and the first movement takes wing only intermittently (with Adolf Busch as the vitalizing force); and keen ears will not be happy with the tuning of the piano nor the horn's accommodation to it. The Adagio, too, lacks convincing continuity; but the performance is just saved from being merely an interesting piece of historical documentation by the tremendous verve of the finale.'