BRAHMS Clarinet Quintet. Clarinet Trio
Contradictions rule. Brahms’s biographer Florence May (1905) says of the Clarinet Quintet: ‘The tone of gentle loving regret that prevails suggests the composer’s feeling that the evening is not far away from him.’ William Murdoch (1933) disagrees: ‘Rapturous, one can hardly believe that the composer is not a young man full of the joy of life.’ Early recordings are divided too, Charles Draper (1928) broadly closer to May whereas Reginald Kell (1937), Frederick Thurston (1941), Leopold Wlach and Alfred Boskovsky (1950s) are generally with Murdoch. Martin Fröst finds the tone of gentle love but no regret, autumnal but not wistful, with a young man’s spring fire coursing through the scherzo. Sensuous beauty and taut sinew mingle for an interpretation from five soloists whose fastidious attention to internal balance and every musical detail result in sovereign excellence, in a sovereign recording.
Fröst’s control of instrumental colour is superfine, intensity of phrases shaped through swell and diminution of sound, timbres voiced to express the character of words in the transcribed songs. But breathing noises intrude and Pöntinen is backwardly placed, as he is in the Trio, a reissue from 2004 now sounding dated in places. Still, there is no gainsaying his contribution either as a duo partner or as a member of an ensemble; and he enhances a performance of the Trio that combines impassioned zeal in the outer movements, longing in the Adagio, a touch of nostalgia in the Andante grazioso. The scene-stealer, though, is the Quintet.