Brahms: Piano Quintet, Clarinet Quintet
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Brahms: Quintets Op.34 & Op.115
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The Tokyo String Quartet is joined by pianist Jon Nakamatsu and clarinetist Jon Manasse in a recording of chamber music masterpieces by Johannes Brahms dating from two very different periods in his life. The tumultuous Piano Quintet, Op.34 is the fiery work of an ambitious young man and the Clarinet Quintet, Op.115 is an autumnal serenade by an experienced master. The composer's journey between these two milestones was one marked by criticism, soul searching and ultimately, triumph.
Top customer reviews
What lovely music this is and how elegantly both pieces are played here. The sound is wonderfully full and warm, the ambience and acoustic ideal for Brahms. There are other equally desirable recordings but anyone purchasing this one cannot be disappointed; clarinettist Jon Manasse produces a rounded tone somewhat less astringent than some rivals such as a favourite of mine with Keith Puddy and the Delmé Quartet, but that is now twenty-five years old and this is inevitably sonically more commanding. The Adagio is a serene lullaby, the Andantino marked by a spritely, sustained momentum and liquid passages in which semiquavers bubble and effervesce, and the Con moto fourth movement contains many felicities such as the tripping triple time of the fifth Variation before the reintroduction of the first movement's opening theme and a sweetly poignant coda.
The Piano Quintet is given a more expressive treatment than the acclaimed recording by the Artemis Quartet and I prefer Jon Nakamatsu's fuller tone to Andsnes's drier sound. Here, the piano is recorded more closely and assertively, too, and again I favour the recording balance. In the opening Allegro, Nakamatsu brings more variety and passion to his re-statement of the driving main subject and the Tokyo strings match his fiery commitment. The ensuing Andante is startling in its contrasting restraint and hesitancy, the Artemis are too feisty. The martial theme of the Scherzo is given a more overt, strident treatment by the Artemis and, again, I prefer the Tokyo who engender a more menacing and inflexible grandeur, making more of what the liner notes aptly characterise as Brahms' "slithering chromaticism". The eerie, discordant opening of the Finale is where the Tokyo really score over the Artemis; they bring more attack and real gypsy bravura to the ensuing "furiant".
By and large, the Artemis are sharper, cleaner and less indulgent, the Tokyo more "Romantic" and better recorded; you will know which style you prefer.
(I never understand why some labels encase their CDs in cardboard covers, reproducing what is already in the disc booklet and back cover; I throw mine away.)
The disc has been primarily played in full surround mode via the surround system. It has also been checked in stereo mode via a stereo player and in stereo mode via an SACD player. This testing makes it clear that the full surround sound via SACD is the clear winner followed by stereo played via an SACD player and finally stereo played by a stereo player. All options are very good, the distinctions being between levels of excellence.
The sound itself is noticeably warm in character and this suits the characteristics of the players as well as the music. There is a palpable sense of the listener 'being there.'
The clarinet quintet, a late work, is given a particularly autumnal interpretation that still keeps on the move while not giving the slightest trace of hurry. The autumnal effect is brought about by the considerable tonal range of the soloist, Jon Manasse who clearly has a natural affinity with the particular sound world associated with this piece. The members of the quartet make ideal partners as they display a considerable affinity with the soloist and share considerable unanimity of interpretive purpose.
The piano quintet from a much earlier period in the composer's life, written at about the time of his first symphony, is a far more dramatic work. This particular performance delivers the appropriate dramatic drive very effectively in the second and final movements especially. The opening movement additionally has a darker undercurrent which is completely convincing. The pianist, Jon Nakamatsu, provides a strong and dramatic delivery of his part which is essential to the whole ensemble. This is a strong and dramatic work and receives an appropriately strong and dramatic reading with the additional darker element most apparent in the outer movements.
It is unrealistic to describe any new recordings of such familiar repertoire as definitive, but one can certainly suggest that this disc offers two performances that deserve to be considered along with the very best of both works. The combination makes this a most attractive purchase proposition. For those with SACD surround facility the attractions will be further enhanced. Others will still be more than satisfied by the otherwise excellent stereo option.