BRAHMS; JANÁČEK Clarinet Sonatas
These performances of Brahms’s clarinet sonatas have a feeling of spontaneity that suggests involved, intimate conversation. Shirley Brill and Jonathan Aner can be daringly free with the tempo, yet their interpretations always sounds natural, perhaps because they’re clearly motivated by the music’s variegated phraseology and changes of character. They take the appassionato marking in the first movement of No 1 to heart, for instance. Note the dramatic way Brill shapes the surging melodic line, and also the overall ebb and flow, which seems to be driven here by some potent gravitational force. Impressive, too, is the way they paint the central Trio of the Allegretto grazioso as an autumnal scene of swirling, fluttering leaves, and then how the return of the sunny opening section is slightly more muted, as if subtly coloured by the Trio’s more clouded atmosphere.
Brill’s tone is reedy and intensely expressive, and she can whittle it down to the merest whisper. Aner’s meticulously articulate playing generally serves as a fine foil for Brill’s hearty style, although it can turn percussively hard-edged in some loud, chordal passages. This edginess is less of a distraction in Brill’s superb transcription of Janáček’s Violin Sonata, where the music itself abounds with sharp melodic and rhythmic angles. ‘The fact that Janáček’s writing for the violin is sparse of double-stops and particular string-instrument techniques makes the adaptation for the clarinet all the more natural’, Brill writes in the preface to the score (published by Bärenreiter). And, in fact, few concessions seem to have been made in the transcription. She effectively replaces pizzicato writing with ‘slap tonguing’, for example. Only in the final Adagio, where Janáček has the violin play with a mute, does Brill’s version miss that movement’s veiled, elegiac quality. Otherwise, the clarinet seems to amplify the sonata’s folk-infused dynamism and soaring lyricism. As in the Brahms, Brill and Aner are acutely sensitive to the music’s myriad harmonic details and their playing fairly bristles with character and incident.