Brahms’s two sonatas for clarinet and piano, Op 120, composed in 1894, were followed only by the four Serious Songs and a set of organ chorale preludes (some of which may have been written at earlier times). His farewell to chamber music was also his farewell gift to the clarinet. The two works recorded here were preceded by the Clarinet Trio in A minor (Op 114) and the great Clarinet Quintet in B minor (Op 115), and all four masterpieces were inspired by the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, principal clarinettist of the Meiningen Orchestra.
Bohemian composer Leopold Kozeluch earned himself a negative historical reputation by putting himself forth as a rival to Haydn and Mozart; badmouthing the former to the latter, he received the retort that "even if you were to put the two of us together, you would still not produce a Haydn!" German clarinetist Dieter Klöcker, an indefatigable investigator of the context that surrounded the mighty Viennese trinity, sets out here to rescue Kozeluch from obscurity with performances of a trio of highly idiomatic clarinet pieces. It's hard to disagree with a newspaper critic of the day, quoted in Klöcker's excellent notes, who wrote that Kozeluch showed "great imaginative boldness" but too often offered "mere copies of ordinary life" that were "prettily dressed up like a young woman trying to please her admirers by means of flowers and ribbons."
No timbral difference separates this midprice reissue of one of the best-loved concertos by Mozart from its previous, full-priced equivalent. There's a bit more ambience and warmth and less stridency on top. If you own the original CD, there's no need to replace it, but first-time buyers should snap up these sensitive, stylish performances in their Great Recordings of the Century guise. One of the main attractions is the extended compass and deliciously "woody" tone of Sabine Meyer's basset clarinet. The clarinetist's fleet, effortless dispatch of the Clarinet Concerto's outer movements is a delight to the ear, and her improvised (or so they seem!) flourishes fit into their environment as if Mozart had written them himself.
While they are popular with clarinetists and some fans of early Romantic music, the three clarinet concertos by Bernhard Henrik Crusell have yet to achieve widespread acclaim outside this small circle of devotees. Conservative in style, predictable in form, and rather limited in expression, Crusell's extant concertos are engaging showpieces for virtuosos, with an agreeable blend of flashy techniques in the Allegros and pretty lyricism in the slow movements, but little more than that.
Jean Françaix: a quintessentially French composer following in the tradition of Saint-Saëns, Poulenc and Satie; composer of some one-hundred-and-fifty works; and virtuoso pianist in his own right. The four works on this recording were composed between 1942 (the Divertissement—very much a 'distraction' during the Nazi Occupation of France) and 1977 (the Clarinet Quintet). All four share a high degree of compositional mastery, but this is always embedded within an air of grace, of profound charm, and of wit. It is perhaps this sense of humour which has so endeared Françaix's music to generations of musicians and music-lovers. But despite the facts that L'heure du berger was composed in honour of a Parisian restaurant who were to use it as 'background' music, that Françaix self-deprecatingly passed off A huit as a 'stop-gap to fill a programme' for the Vienna Octet, and that the Divertissement contains unashamedly blatant musical jokes, these compositions are unmistakably the work of an expert, a distinctively 'Gallic' artist.