This disc of music for clarinet and string quartet, delightfully played by Thea King and the Britten Quartet, is a source of constant pleasure. In particular, the Two Fantasy Pieces by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford reveal new facets of a man long derided as an academic composer better known for his worthiness than for his imagination. It is one of those well-known facts that he took Brahms as his inspiration, yet these two late works show just how aware he was of the developments among his younger contemporaries, while still retaining his innate gift as a melodist and contrapuntalist. Each Fantasy is a single movement and each lasts under 15 minutes, yet each piece is a full-blown quintet in miniature: the first containing a central slow movement, while the second has a slow movement and a scherzo. Music of this quality deserves to become part of the repertoire.
The other two pieces on the disc come from Vienna. Andreas Romberg was a violinist and a contemporary of Mozart and took him and Haydn as his inspiration. The interesting aspect of this Quintet is that it is scored for one violin and two violas, thus giving Romberg's own instrument more prominence against the solo clarinet.It also gives the Quintet unusually warm and rich textures in much the same way as Mozart does in his Horn Quintet. Robert Fuchs was a teacher at the Vienna Conservatoire for much of the latter part of the nineteenth century and numbered Mahler and Sibelius among his many pupils. Among those who admired his music was Brahms. This Quintet was composed for Fuchs's seventieth birthday concert in 1917 and was enthusiastically received by both critics and public. Understandably, for it is a charming piece, here given a full-blooded and intense performance, which will be enjoyed by all who hear it.'