Happy Birthday Brahms!
In honor of Brahms’ 179th birthday today, we’re taking a look back at one of our past releases which features Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 performed by clarinetist Eddie Daniels and The Composers String Quartet.
The Composers String Quartet
Weber: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B-flat, Op. 34
Brahms: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op. 115
Leonard Bernstein called Eddie Daniels “a well-bred demon.” He is equally at home in classical music as in jazz, where he is a chart artist. This is his first classical recording. “…My God, what a lovely recording. If more sessions were recorded this well, reviewers could spend more time discussing the music, and listeners everywhere would enjoy music significantly more.” —Stereophile
Brahms Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op. 115:
“Wanda Landowska used to call Variation XXV of Bach’s Goldberg Variations “The Black Pearl.” I think that her analogy can be appropriated to describe Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet — surely the “black pearl” of that composer’s chamber music. Like the cited Bach variation, the Quintet, composed in 1896, has a certain sombre mysticism; a unique beauty and aesthetic persona; a depth of emotional substance; and a perfection of architectural construction. Dark in color and often subdued, the work nevertheless glows with intense, hot passion.
The opening movement (Allegro) is a cogently formed sonata edifice. The violins open in thirds, soon to be joined by the two lower strings. From this launching pad, the clarinet enters (much in the way that its counterpart enters the fray in Mozart’s quintet) with an ascending phrase that assumes great importance later on: when the exposition is repeated, the same phrase grows right out of the first ending; and a variant thereof leads to the development section. For all its autumnal mood and swaying rhythm, the movement remains a hard-hitting allegro, and any mistaken attempt to play it too leisurely and sentimentally will have the result of providing insufficient contrast to the Adagio that follows.
In the second movement, the strings are muted while clarinet and first violin divide honors in stating the plaintive vocal-aria-like first theme. The central section, turbulent and gypsy-like, provides an anguished contrast. The clarinet is not merely permitted, but encouraged, to phrase with great flourish. An agitated episode with pulsating tremolos and more rhapsodizing from the claient leads to modified da capo of the opening section.
The Scherzo, in effect, alternates two ideas — a lyrical Andantino, and a playfully scampering Presto non assai con sentimento. In the one, the instruments participate in effusive song; in the other, the strings chatter freely while the clarinet punctuates with little sprays and runs. Once again, the movement concludes with a shortened da capo.
The Finale is a wondrously devised theme with five variations. Brahms marks the movement “con moto,” which is a succinct admonition not to let the pulse drag (and, since no other directive occurs, also not to change tempo along with the character of each variant). Variation I is the cellist’s show. Variation II uses strategically placed syncopes to create a swaggering, forward-plunging momentum. Variation III fragments the melody into little runs and in its second strain has the clarinet “doing its thing.” Variation IV, the maggiore of the set, shows Brahmsian mastery of contrapuntal style to fullest advantage. Variation V is a Viennese waltz for the viola, with the “oom pah pah” beautifully supplied by the cello — who gets agitated toward the end and effectively doubles his time. The epilogue brings the work to a grave conclusion.” — excerpts from Harris Goldsmith’s liner notes
Listen to samples from the Brahms Clarinet Quintet in B-Minor, Op. 115:
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