A subtly shifting balance

I have always loved Johannes Brahms’s clarinet sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 and was therefore delighted to see pianist Jon Nakamatsu’s name on a new recording of these works with another h-less Jon's, clarinetist Jon Manasse's.

In Sunday’s New York Times, James Oestreich describes the appeal of the Brahms thus: “the clarinet and the piano are thoroughly, sensuously intertwined in a subtly shifting balance.” If you listen, you'll know exactly what he means.

(Scroll down for the full review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/arts/music/13reco.html?_r=...)

Mr. Nakamatsu’s polished performance of Gershwin’s music with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra earned high marks from critics and, at one point, a #3 spot on the Billboard magazine sales ranking in 2007. He's scheduled to appear locally during the Canandaguia Lake Chamber Music Festival, August 21-31, 2008.

Link to the harmonia mundi CD:
http://www.cduniverse.com/search/xx/music/pid/7583264/a/Brah...

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Comments

Blown or scraped?

You have a choice with these sonatas between air pressure and friction, because Brahms published the Op 120 sonatas simultaneously for clarinet and viola. And, later, for violin! The viola version is the most often recorded of the alternates. I have a definite opinion about which is best - whichever version I'm listening to at the moment.

There are a few textual differences between the versions, but I wonder if Brahms would have given more notes to the viola if he'd been writing primarily for that instrument. The long-held pitches that come comparatively easy to the clarinet must be a technical challenge for the violist, who has to maintain a tone and then must follow those sudden shifts without any apparent effort or break in the expressive line.

To my layman's ear, that is achieved beautifully by Barbara Westphal in her recording on Bridge Records. I also love the old record by clarinetist Gervase de Peyer, with Barenboim on EMI. Ether way, this is heavenly music whose small scale belies its profundity. As great as his orchestral music is, it is Brahms' chamber music that is his most deeply poetic, especially late works such as these.

clarinet

Hi, Carl,

I, too, love the Gervase de Peyer recording with Barenboim on EMI.

Violinist Ilya Kahler, former concertmaster of the RPO, recorded these for Naxos a few years ago, and when I listened to his interpretation, it didn't really move me. The clarinet is more like the breathy, reedy sound of the human voice and better suited, I think, to expressing the rhapsodic and lyrical lines in the Brahms. I vote "blown."

Brenda

Brahms Op. 120

Brenda,

There is a letter Brahms wrote to the famed clarinetist Richard Muehlfeld, for whom he wrote the sonatas, imploring him to please join him for an upcoming performance. "Otherwise," Brahms wrote, "I shall be forced to ask a violist."

In all seriousness, Brahms surely conceived of these as primarily as clarinet sonatas, and he produced the viola transcriptions (as he did also for the clarinet trio and clarinet quinete) in part because of the tradition of publishing all clarinet works with a viola or violin alternative (as Mozart, Beethoven, and others did for their clarinet chamber works) to increase sales. Of course, as a violist, I'm thrilled to have Brahms' blessing to play these works, but he himself considered the transcription to be "awkward and clumsy," so I do my best to tread lightly, with due reverence, and certainly to avoid "scraping!"

Best,

Edward Klorman
Executive Director and Co-Artistic director
Canandaigua Lake Chamber Music Festival
http://www.LakeChamberMusic.org

Brahms

Violinist Joseph Joachim urged Brahms to arrange his clarinet sontatas for viola, and I'm glad he did, even though they seem more natural on the clarinet. Of the many recordings out there, those with clarinetists outnumber the violists, but not by much. (I also realize that the de Peyer recording I love best is not on EMI but on Chandos with Gwenneth Prior.)

I'm glad to hear Jon Nakamatsu is coming to perform in your festival this summer. Will he play the Brahms with Juliana Athayde, do you think?

Brenda

Re: Brahms

It's very exciting that he's coming--a world-class pianist, delightful person, and a wonderful friend to our community!

We're not officially announcing the summer programs for a few months, but I'll let you in on a secret... Juliana and Jon are indeed playing Brahms, the Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 78. It's an extremely tender work, and they'll play it beautifully together. The finale quotes Brahms' famous "Regenlied"(Rain Song), and this concert is all about music inspired by water. As for the rest of the program, well, I'll tell you more later on!

Between now and then, Brahms fans might think about a concert we have next month with the Orion String Quartet, which is the resident ensemble from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Amy Sue Barston (my co-artistic director) and I are lucky enough to play the Brahms G-major Sextet with the Orion, and the concert also includes a world premiere of a new quartet by Lowell Liebermann, which we commissioned for the Orion's 20th anniversary. Lowell will be there to introduce his piece and greet the audience, and he's delightful. That's all on Saturday, Feb. 9 at Temple B'rith Kodesh, and more info will be on our website tomorrow.

Best,

Edward Klorman
Executive Director and Co-Artistic director
Canandaigua Lake Chamber Music Festival
http://www.LakeChamberMusic.org

exciting

Thanks for the unofficial announcement. I'm intrigued by a program of music inspired by water and can only imagine what else might be offered. Summer festivals seem to be offering more and more themed or related concerts. This summer at Glimmerglass Opera, for example, audience members will see four new productions linked to Shakespeare, staged on an Elizabethan-style set.

Brenda