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Brahms Clarinet Quintet & Zemlinsky Clarinet Trio
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Brahms: Clarinet Quintet - Zemlinsky: Clarinet Trio
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Audio CD, 4 May 2015
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In this finely balanced performance [of the Brahms Quintet], Emma Johnson, when her part is a subsidiary one, blends in easily with the strings, adding a liquid tone to the texture. This is not to say that she doesn't strongly project and characterise the more soloistic episodes, but the whole account is noteable for its feeling of intimate discourse...Zemlinskys early Trio...is a fascinating, enthralling work, persuasively presented in this strong, confident performance. --Gramophone, September 2015
Emma Johnson is a most excellent soloist who has had a highly successful career since winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition as long ago as 1984. She has a lovely, mellow tone and blends ideally with the quartet in a perfectly balanced recording which allows the gentle pulsing of the viola and cello to emerge clearly beneath the melodic line in the Adagio. They take that movement a little more briskly than Puddy, perhaps to avoid any connotations of sentimentality which can gather around such familiar and ripely Romantic music. On the other hand, they never abandon the requisite singing quality in their phrasing. --Ralph Moore, musicweb-international.com
This is a lovely work given an impressive performance by these fine artists. The recording made at Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK is excellent and there are excellent booklet notes from Emma Johnson. --theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.co.uk
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Emma Johnson is of course an equally eminent soloist who has had a highly successful career since winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition as long ago as 1984. She has lovely, mellow tone and blends ideally with the quartet in a perfectly balanced recording which allows the gentle pulsing of the viola and cello to emerge clearly beneath the melodic line in the Adagio. They take that movement a little more briskly than Puddy, perhaps to avoid any connotations of sentimentality which can gather around such familiar, ripely Romantic music but they never abandon the requisite singing quality in their phrasing.
As indicated in her sensitive and informative notes, Johnson and the Michelangelo really emphasise the wild, Hungarian quality of the central "Più lento" section, "the strings at times sounding like a cembalon, that distinctive zither-like folk instrument, while the clarinet metamorphosises into a gypsy musician casting roulades of notes." I couldn't put it better myself, so I won't try.
The influence over Zemlinsky in the opening "Allegro" of his Trio is very obvious, especially in the impulsive, headlong dynamism of the piano line which vies with the rhapsodic clarinet; the cello takes a back seat to this passionate dialogue.
That dialogue continues in the sensuous Andante but then the cello comes to the fore; Johnson's legato is a dream and she blends the caramel lower register of her instrument with the burring of the cello as they harmonise in thirds and fifths in a richly retrospective love theme, followed by another "Hungarian" episode in the form of a "fantasia" before the return to the serenity of the love music. The beauty and depth of the sound provided by the Nimbus engineers is especially in evidence here.
The brief, final "Allegro" dances restlessly and starts to look forward to a more modern Viennese style in a freer, more "floating" manner; the players interweave magically. It is hard to imagine a more musical recording of two such deeply satisfying works, ideally paired here.
As a footnote, no matter how many times I see a Klimt painting used as cover artwork I still enjoy it both for its intrinsic beauty and for its aptness to the music it adorns.
[This review also posted on MusicWeb International]
The other work on the CD, the Clarinet Trio in D minor by Zemlinsky, was new to me. I had no idea that the composer had not only met Brahms, but had also received financial support from him. Fascinating!
The composition of the two works was separated by only five years, when Brahms was well into middle age and Zemlinsky still only 25. Endorsement from Brahms helped him no end in his career and although the influence of the older composer is evident, Zemlinsky still has his own voice. This trio makes a very interesting introduction for a new listener, as I was.
Also, the Klimt portrait on the cover of the CD is a separate source of pleasure!
I have followed the progress of Emma Johnson since she first played for me in 1985 and her recordings have never been less than perfectly produced and graciously executed over a wide range. She brings her current maturity to the Brahms Quintet and an excitedly unexpected performance of the Zemlinsky Trio, which, though new to many of us, is strikingly gratifying, earning the respect of the older Brahms. Zemlinsky became a highly regarded composer in Vienna before fleeing to the USA and dying in his 72nd year in 1942 with an output which included 8 operas, 4 symphonies, some 9 chamber or solo instrumental pieces and many vocal and choral works.
This combination of Brahms's old and Zemlinsky's young talent is recommended in the excellent performances and technical recordings available in this issue.