Brahms & Mozart Quintets
' I have to say that what Martin wonders about M'hlfeld is exactly the same as many of us wonder about him, how does he produce that liquid, endlessly mellifluous tone? '' The Herald on Sunday, Michael Tumelty.
Two of the greatest and best-loved chamber works for clarinet: Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A, K.581 and the Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 by Brahms feature on this new release.
It follows the release of the Brahms Sonatas for clarinet by Maximiliano Martin, one of the most charismatic players of his generation, principal clarinet of Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
Reviews of that release speak for themselves in describing his affinity with the music of Brahms:' The F minor sonata is ripe with liquid, effortless phasing, Martin digging deep into its inner warmth'' The Scotsman, Ken Walton 'Martin elegantly conveys the soul and introspection of Brahms'' The Kangnam Hakbo, South Korea, Charles Ian Chun.
For this new recording he is joined by the Badke Quartet, formed in 2002, and widely recognised as one of Britain's finest string quartets. The Quartet has received widespread acclaim for its energetic and vibrant performances.
Mozart was inspired to write his great quintet for Anton Stadler, and it exploits to the full both Mozart and Stadler's technical mastery of the instrument. Its lyricism combines with the emotional depth of Mozart's late works.
Brahms modeled his Clarinet Quintet, written for Richard Muhlfeld, on Mozart's and uses the expressive, reflective and autumnal qualities of the clarinet to full advantage.
- Sleeve Notes
Mozart's feel for the clarinet's sonority is a little remarked-on facet of his genius, yet it remains almost ineffably special. He had an uncanny ability to draw out his chosen instruments' finest qualities; but it was the clarinet that perhaps benefitted most of all from his attention.
The attraction for Mozart could well have been the instrument's affinity for the human voice, which was possibly his ideal medium; the clarinet has a similar mellifluous legato and plangent, speaking tone, yet also the advantages of a bigger range and greater capacity for technical precision. He first encountered the wind instrument during a visit to Mannheim in his child prodigy days, aged seven, at which time it had just been invented, and there he conceived an affection for it that would last his whole life. He went on to include prominent spots for it in orchestral genres in which it had not formerly been used and it features exquisitely in his operas Cos' fan tutte and Le nozze di Figaro. But more significant still were the late works in which he transformed it into a solo instrument in its own right.
During the last years of his short life, Mozart enjoyed a rewarding friendship with the clarinettist Anton Stadler (1753-1812), a fellow Freemason. It was for him that the composer created his famous Clarinet Concerto and the Clarinet Quintet. As second clarinet in the Vienna Court Orchestra ' first clarinet was played by his brother, Johann Nepomuk Stadler ' this remarkable musician also played the basset horn, a deeper version with a range four pitches lower than that of the standard instrument. This too became a favourite of Mozart's and was to appear prominently in his final masterpiece, the Requiem.
It is perhaps telling that to Stadler one Viennese critic remarked: 'I would not have thought that a clarinet could imitate the human voice so deceptively as you imitate it. Your instrument is so soft, so delicate in tone that no-one who has a heart can resist it.'
No-one who has a heart could resist, either, the music that Mozart wrote for him. The Clarinet Quintet, dating from 1789, just precedes Cos' fan tutte in his output and flows with the apparent ease and grace of that opera's finest ensembles. The clarinet's sonic colour both blends with the sound of the string quartet and stands out from it; it functions as less of a soloist than it would in a concerto, but is still more than just an equal member of the ensemble.
The work falls into the standard four-movement structure of a symphony or quartet: an opening allegro of suitably mellow quality, a generous and pure-hearted adagio, a minuet with two contrasted trios and a finale that presents a set of five variations and a speedy coda on a good-humoured theme that would not have been out of place as a number for Papageno in Mozart's opera Die Zauberfl'te. It affords the clarinettist plenty of chance to display his or her virtuoso abilities as well as the full range of the instrument, from dizzying arpeggios to a hint of tragedy in the fifth variation.
Stadler gave the world premiere of the Quintet in Vienna on 22 December 1789 with a string quartet whose players included the composer himself.
Certain parallels exist between Mozart's path to his Clarinet Quintet and that of Brahms. The latter's work postdates the earlier composer's by 102 years, but it can claim Mozart's as a major influence while matching it soundly ' indeed, perhaps exceeding it ' in terms of beauty, emotional profundity and technical expertise.
Like Mozart, Brahms turned to the clarinet as a solo instrument only towards the end of his life; and like Mozart, he was inspired to do so by his personal acquaintance with a great clarinettist. Brahms's spur came from Richard M'hlfeld (1856-1907), a musician who ironically enough had started his career as a violinist and only moved to the wind instrument three years after joining the Meiningen Court Orchestra.
By the age of about 58, Brahms felt that his own powers were on the wane. He planned to retire from composition, declaring: 'I have worked enough; now let the young people take over.' Perhaps he was tempting fate, though, because it was not long afterwards that he heard M'hlfeld play, in a number of works including Mozart's Clarinet Quintet. Fortunately for us, this spurred him to rethink his former decision; instead of retiring, he produced a clutch of autumnal musical glories that are often termed his 'Indian summer'. Among them were further works for M'hlfeld: two masterful sonatas and a powerful trio for clarinet, piano and violin.
The Clarinet Quintet's world premiere took place in a private concert on 24 November 1891 in Meiningen, where M'hlfeld was still based. Brahms had written to the Baroness of Meiningen to request 'a magnificent cellist' to match him for the occasion, and the ensemble was led by the great violinist Joseph Joachim, a close friend and long-time collaborator of the composer's.
Brahms's clarinet perhaps plays a role more equal with its string quartet than it is in Mozart's work, but the part is no less demanding for that. The quintet's construction makes much use of a compositional technique that Schoenberg later termed 'developing variation'; the progression and intensification of musical argument by the constant varying of the themes' recurrences, whether in harmony, instrumentation, mood or more. Throughout the work the thematic material is closely integrated, yet never obtrusively so; the impression is of a tightly wrought and phenomenally inspired masterpiece.
The first two movements occupy most of the work's space. The first, marked Allegro, opens with floating, ambiguous, circling thirds which take time to settle into a deceptive D major. One would be hard-pressed at first to identify whether this music is chiefly in a major or minor key, so knife-edge is the balance between the two. Throughout the movement ' which unfolds with a second theme of a rhythmic
definition and strength markedly different from the free flow of the first ' Brahms maintains a mood of profound introspection. The clarinet's timbre adds warmth and tenderness to what might otherwise have seemed an austere concept.
The second movement, Adagio, is ' as in Mozart ' the heart of the work. Here the apparent simplicity of the clarinet's cantilena is wreathed with a soft, syncopated accompaniment; the phrasing extends across the barlines in a manner almost as ambiguous as the first movement's harmonies are. This gives way to a central section in which the clarinet enters a series of rhapsodic outbursts, winding up the emotional tension to a peak that seems to teeter on the edge of an existential abyss, comparable only to the terrifying slow movement of Schubert's A major Piano Sonata D959.
The third movement, as so often in late Brahms, replaces the (by then) traditional scherzo with a gentler-paced Andantino, again reflective and songful, yet subtly brightening the mood after the adagio's profound meditation. Contrasting sections appear (Presto non assai), fleet-footed this time but based on the same musical material as the opening theme; the instrumentation is delicate, the second section surrounding the solo clarinet with a halo of pizzicato on the strings.
To close, like Mozart, Brahms offers a set of five variations. They develop the two- sectioned theme through a range of contrasting characters - from the stormy syncopations of the second variation to a bubbling clarinet and pizzicato off-beat accompaniment in the third. But instead of a lively coda as in Mozart's work, towards the end the first movement's main theme ' with those circling, unsettling thirds ' makes an unexpected reappearance. This is one of the most overtly 'cyclical' moments in all of Brahms's output. It ushers in last-minute hesitations and reflections that, far from providing a resolution or any measure of comfort, appear to leave Brahms's darker questions forever unanswered.
- Press Reviews
".... fresh and individual... [Martin has] a gorgeous woody tone... an expressive range that is ravishing and profound."
- The Scotsman
"Martin's superb tone and styling ... he seems to produce brightly colored threads that run brilliantly up and down the tight and precise yet highly spirited weaving of the Badke Quartet's tapestry... Simply beautiful!"
- The Kangnam Hakbo
"... these interpretations are well realized, with many excellent individual moments."
- International Record Review
"The playing has great vigor and sentiment . . . the performers take expressive chances that leave an impression..."
"Martin boasts a finely polished British timbre that melts into the strings."
- American Record Guide
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