Brahms Sonatas & Gade Fantasy Pieces
Maximiliano Martín, one of the most charismatic clarinet players of his generation, plays iconic late works by Brahms: the two clarinet Sonatas on his debut recording for Champs Hill.
Coupled with the lesser-known Fantasy pieces by Niels Gade
Brahms' two clarinet Sonatas (along with the clarinet quintet) are his last chamber works and might not have been written at all, had he not been inspired by the beautiful clarinet playing of Richard Mühlfeld. Clara Schumann described his playing as: "delicate, warm and unaffected . . . most perfect technique and command of the instrument".
Brahms' music is idiomatic, exploiting the clarinet's ability to change register and play rapid arpeggios. . Both clarinet sonatas have a wide expressive range embracing muscularity, passion, energy, humour and light-heartedness. Without these pieces the clarinet repertoire would be much poorer.
The most celebrated musician of his generation in Denmark - he succeeded Mendelssohn as chief conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra - Niels Gade's Fantasy pieces date from 1843.
Gade regarded Schumann as a friend and mentor and his generally conservative musical language shows traces of Schumann, though without his exceptional poetic imagination and fantasy, while the rather more conventional language of Mendelssohn is a stronger influence.
Maximiliano Martín is principal clarinet of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and a member of the London Conchord Ensemble who have recorded Poulenc, Menotti and more with Champs Hill Records. He is internationally in demand as a soloist and chamber musician and has also recorded for Linn records. A second disc with the Badke Quartet, of Mozart and Brahms quintets, will also be released on Champs Hill next year.
- Sleeve Notes
Every time I play either of Brahms' sonatas I wonder: how did Mühlfeld play the clarinet? One can be certain that his playing was very classy and his tone pure and captivating to be able to inspire a Clarinet Trio, the great Clarinet Quintet and later his sonatas. Both sonatas share the nostalgic and autumnal quality of Brahms' late music, but apart from that for me both sonatas are a total reflection on his life, joy, sorrow, sadness, happiness, fear, hope ... music that comes directly from the heart.
I hope you enjoy the CD as much as I enjoyed recording it in the beautiful Champs Hill music room and surroundings.
In 1891 Brahms was already planning his retirement, warning his publisher not to expect any further compositions from him. However, his creative drive was unexpectedly recharged when he became captivated by the wonderfully expressive playing of Richard Mühlfeld (1856-1907), principal clarinettist of the Meiningen Court Orchestra, in performances of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet and Weber's First Clarinet Concerto. The distinctive artistry of Mühlfeld, a violinist who taught himself the clarinet in three years and who later became principal clarinet of the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, was widely admired. Clara Schumann described his playing as: "delicate, warm and unaffected ... most perfect technique and command of the instrument". In an article in The Clarinet of May- June 1989, Nicholas Shackleton and Keith Puddy comment upon the warm tone of Mühlfeld's boxwood clarinets, preserved in Meiningen. Brahms' various pet- names for Mühlfeld included 'Fräulein Klarinette', 'my dear nightingale' and 'my prima donna'.
The four works Brahms composed for Mühlfeld - a trio, a quintet and two sonatas - proved to be his last chamber compositions, but he went on to complete the groups of piano pieces Opus 116-119 (begun 1891-2) before writing a set of German Folksongs, the Four Serious Songs, Opus 121, and 11 Chorale Preludes for organ, Opus 122. Without Mühlfeld's reawakening of Brahms' creative urge we may well have been deprived of not only the clarinet works but also these other late compositions. In 1894, while preparing the final book of the 49 German Folksongs for publication, Brahms again talked of ending his composing career. He wrote to Clara Schumann: "Has it ever occurred to you that the last of the songs comes in my Opus 1? [the First Piano Sonata] ... It really ought to mean something. It ought to represent the snake that bites its own tail, that is to say, to express symbolically that the tale is told, the circle closed ... At sixty it is probably high time to stop".
In the two sonatas of 1894 Brahms' writing for clarinet is beautifully idiomatic, exploiting the effectiveness of rapid arpeggios and the instrument's ease in changing register. This latter characteristic facilitates, importantly, octave displacement within a melody, thereby enhancing expressive tension - as in the opening theme of the F minor Sonata, Opus 120 No. 1. The tempo is Allegro appassionato, but here the passion burns steadily rather than impulsively. A comparison with the stormy opening movement of the First Piano Concerto (dating from the late 1850s) is revealing of the older Brahms' relative restraint. For instance, the first entries of both piano and clarinet are marked only poco forte, and although there are several other passages of great emotional eloquence, espressivo and dolce appear instead of more assertive markings, and the dynamic only once rises above forte. Perhaps this discretion simply reflects the more sensitive, feminine qualities of ['Fräulein'] Mühlfeld's playing. Brahms - in common with every other major composer writing for a specific performer - undoubtedly would have been influenced by Mühlfeld's style and technique. The opening movement is rich in melodic material, subtle and concentrated in development, and concludes with a reflective coda marked sostenuto ed espressivo. In the manner of a serene reverie, the slow movement begins with a song-like melody, accompanied with spare simplicity. A slightly more active middle section does little to disturb the prevailing mood of resignation. Like a ländler in character, the genial Allegretto grazioso provides ideal contrast with its adjacent movements. Again the prevalence of markings such as dolce, molto dolce, dolcissimo, pi� dolce sempre and teneramente is noticeable. In the amiable rondo-finale Brahms achieves a balance between strongly marked rhythm and sunny lyricism. The assertiveness of the opening bars is soon mollified by the clarinet melody (grazioso, then leggiero). Of the contrasting episodes the first has a theme in crotchet triplets. The opening idea of three repeated notes subsequently returns to gently underpin a passage of development. This exuberant Vivace finale is just one of many examples from Brahms' late compositions that expose the inadequacy of the 'autumnal' cliché. Above all there is the Clarinet Quintet, a work rich in fantasy, emotional intensity and fiery abandon. 'Autumnal' describes merely one element of these multi-faceted late pieces. Both clarinet sonatas have a wide expressive range embracing muscularity, passion, energy, humour and light-heartedness. In terms of compositional technique, Brahms' motivic development shows typical resourcefulness. Indeed, his supreme all-round craftsmanship - especially when he was engaging with any intellectually challenging medium such as the sonata - may be taken for granted.
The second of the two sonatas begins with a suave melody in a leisurely tempo ('amabile' = amiable or pleasant). In this generally restrained and lyrical movement the mellower, more resigned aspects of the composer's late period prevail. In the development section Brahms generates some brief turbulence but the movement ends with a wistful coda marked tranquillo. Brahms' duo-sonatas generally have taxing piano parts and that of the Allegro appassionato central movement, ardent and heroic, is particularly demanding. Indeed the equality of the two instruments throughout the clarinet sonatas is striking. The opening section eventually calms, giving way to a serene middle section (marked Sostenuto, ma dolce e ben cantando) with a broad, spacious melody. The finale, a set of variations, is based on a theme of innocent character, almost like a folk-song, but of unusual 14-bar length. Of the five variations the first three are lyrical and elegant - Variation 2 exploiting the chalumeau register of the clarinet - but they also become increasingly florid. Variation 3 (marked grazioso) has twenty-four notes to the bar, neatly dovetailed between clarinet and piano. Variation 4 returns to quiet and stillness, before a change of tempo for Variation 5 - an incisive Allegro in 2/4 including some robust cross-rhythms.
Brahms' two sonatas remain the outstanding contributions to the clarinet-and- piano repertoire, while viola players devising recital programmes are equally grateful for these major works. (Brahms judiciously adapted both clarinet and piano parts for these alternative versions.) In view of the previously undistinguished duo-sonata repertoires of both these instruments, Brahms must be recognised as a pioneering figure.
Born in Copenhagen, Niels W. Gade (1817-1890) was the son of an instrument maker. His own musical career began with his appointment as a violinist in the Royal Danish Orchestra. In 1841 this orchestra gave the premiere of his Opus 1 - Overture: Echoes of Ossian. Two years later an enthusiastic Mendelssohn gave a well-received performance of Gade's First Symphony before a Leipzig audience. When Gade moved to Leipzig he befriended Mendelssohn, became his assistant conductor - of the Gewandhaus Orchestra - and then, on Mendelssohn's death in 1847, his successor as chief conductor. On his return to his native city in 1848 - prompted by the outbreak of war between Prussia and Denmark - Gade became the most celebrated musician in Denmark. Having established a permanent orchestra and chorus in Copenhagen, he gave the Danish premieres of Beethoven's 9th Symphony and Bach's St. Matthew Passion.
Gade's list of compositions includes eight symphonies, eight overtures, a violin concerto, large-scale cantatas, a ballet, works for organ and piano, string chamber music including string quartets, quintets, a sextet and an octet, piano trios and violin sonatas, and many songs. With the publication of the collected edition of his works in 1995, much of Gade's output became available for the very first time.
Gade's Fantasy Pieces, Opus 43, date from 1864. The term 'fantasy' was chosen by Schumann for a number of his compositions, including a group of Fantasy Pieces for clarinet and piano. (Even his projected title for what became his ￼Fourth Symphony was 'Symphonic Fantasy'). Gade had first met Schumann in 1843 after arriving in Leipzig for a six-month stay, and he soon came to regard him as both friend and mentor. In an April 1846 diary entry Schumann wrote, 'I have seldom met anyone with whom I feel in such harmony', and a few years later he dedicated his G minor Piano Trio, Opus 110, to him. Gade's generally conservative musical language shows traces of Schumann, though without his exceptional poetic imagination and fantasy, while the rather more conventional language of Mendelssohn is a stronger influence. Brahms also left his mark on Gade, but this occasion was memorable for the wrong reasons. In 1868 Brahms finished a tour with the baritone Julius Stockhausen with performances in Copenhagen, planned by Gade. At the ensuing party Brahms made insensitive remarks about Bismarck and other extremely delicate political issues, scandalising his hosts. His remaining appearances were cancelled.
Gade's set of Fantasy Pieces, beautifully written for both instruments, begins with a poetic Andantino con moto, which is followed by a graceful Allegro vivace with several 'feminine' phrase-endings. The Ballade (Moderato) begins with harp-like chords rather suggestive of a solemn bardic ceremony. Gade's effective use of the clarinet's chalumeau register contributes to the prevailingly serious mood of the slower sections - underlined by the con gravité markings towards the end of the piece. The middle section, with rippling piano part, is marked Tempo animato and, more oddly, 'scherzando'. After a recall of the first section this more animated music itself returns, building to a Pi� mosso which culminates in a passionate fortissimo, before a final Lento restores calm. The final piece - Allegro molto vivace - has an early con fuoco marking, but the surging piano triplets give way to regular quavers for the middle section, marked tranquillo. A splendid coda, initially obsessive, with its repeated F-E flat, concludes this fine set of pieces.
Principal Clarinet of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, international soloist, chamber musician, Spanish clarinettist Maximiliano Martín is rapidly establishing himself as one of the most exciting and charismatic musicians of his generation.
Since being appointed Principal Clarinet of the SCO in 2002 and winning the Young Artists Platform Competition in the same year, he has made debuts at the Wigmore Hall, Queen's Hall Edinburgh, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Bridgewater Hall Manchester, St David's Hall Cardiff, Perth Concert Hall, St George's Bristol, Brighton, Bedford, Newbury and East Neuk Festivals and overseas at the Tallin Festival, Palau de la Musica Catalana and Teatro Monumental in Madrid.
As a soloist Martín has performed all the major concertos with orchestras such as the SCO, European Union Chamber Orchestra, Lundstateorkester Malmo, Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife, Kwazulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra in Durban and Macedonian Philharmonic under the baton of Brüggen, Manze, Ticciati, Antonini, Swensen, McGegan, Grazioli, Markovic, Boico and Gonzalez.
Martín's extensive discography for Linn Records include his debut album Fantasia, the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with SCO, Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, his second solo album Vibraciones del Alma and the Weber Wind Concertos. Numerous broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 in recent years have included the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto, Mozart Clarinet Quintet, Poulenc Sextet and Beethoven Piano and Wind Quintet. Future releases on the Champs Hill label will include Mozart and Beethoven quintets for piano and winds, and Brahms and Mozart Clarinet Quintets.
Martín is a member of the London Conchord Ensemble, playing internationally in venues such as the Wigmore Hall, Brussels Conservatory, Concertgebouw Chamber Series and last year at the Library of Congress in Washington. They record regularly for Champs Hill Records (Menotti Clarinet Trio, Poulenc Complete Chamber Music) and Orchid Classics (Glinka Trio Pathetique). Other collaborations include Hebrides Ensemble, Doric String Quartet, Maurice Bourgue, Alexander
Janiczek, Pekka Kuusisto, Christian Zacharias, Paul Lewis, Jack Liebeck, Caroline Widmann, Radovan Vlatkovic and the Badke String Quartet.
Martín has performed in the most important concert halls and international festivals with orchestras such the London Symphony, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the City of Birmingham Symphony, Hallé, Orquesta de Cadaques, Bergen Philharmonic, Münchener Kammerorkester, Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, and worked with prestigious conductors including Abbado, Haitink, Colin Davis and Mackerras.
Martín was born in La Orotava (Tenerife) and studied at the Conservatorio Superior de Música in Tenerife, Barcelona School of Music and later at the Royal College of Music where he held the prestigious Wilkins-Mackerras Scholarship, graduated with distinction and received the Frederick Thurston and Golden Jubilee Prizes. His teachers have included Joan Enric Lluna, Richard Hosford and Robert Hill. He is one of the Artistic Directors of the Chamber Music Festival of La Villa de La Orotava, held every year in his home town. Martín is a prize winner in the Howarth Clarinet and Bristol International Music Competitions.
Maximiliano Martín is a Buffet Crampon Artist and plays Buffet Tosca Clarinets.
An English graduate of Oxford University, Julian Milford subsequently studied piano and piano accompaniment at the Curtis Institute and the Guildhall. He has worked as an accompanist and chamber musician with some of Britain's finest instrumentalists and singers, performing at major chamber music venues across Britain and Europe. Julian is the pianist and a founder member of the London Conchord Ensemble, a mixed chamber music ensemble founded in 2002 that has a busy performing schedule in venues including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, the Library of Congress, and the Wigmore Hall. Julian's concerts as accompanist or duo partner have included recitals with baritones Sir Thomas Allen and Christopher Maltman, tenor Toby Spence (with whom he has a regular partnership), mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, and cellist Han-Na Chang in venues including the Frick Collection in New York, the Philharmonie in Cologne and the Herkulessaal in Munich. He has also played at festivals including the Cheltenham, Schleswig-Holstein and Edinburgh festivals and BBC Proms among others.
Julian has recorded extensively for labels including Chandos, Hyperion, ASV, Black Box, Champs Hill Records and Orchid Classics. He has made a number of recordings with the distinguished violinist Lydia Mordkovitch for Carlton Classics and Chandos. His debut solo recording comprising works by William Alwyn (Chandos) was described as 'impeccably stylish' by BBC Music Magazine.
- Press Reviews
"The F minor Sonata is ripe with liquid, effortless phrasing, Martin digging deep into its inner warmth without eschewing the joyousness of the finale."
"Martin and Milford are a fully compatible double act."
- Ken Walton, The Scotsman
"The Fantasy Pieces by Niels Gade... are lovely little gems."
- Michael Tumelty, Herald Scotland
"Martin and Milford are a great team, playing with superb balance, solid technique, and heartfelt sincerity..."
- American Record Guide
"[Martin] plays with a firm, well-focused tone... impeccable intonation..."
"Martin elegantly conveys the soul and introspection of Brahms"
- Charles Ian Chun, The Kangnam Hakbo, South Korea
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