Beethoven’s first self-promoted concert in Vienna in April 1800 contained works by Mozart and Haydn alongside his own first symphony, piano concerto and a septet, opus 20, that was the hit of the night. On the notion that nothing succeeds like success, Beethoven sold his publisher an additional version of the septet, scaled down to a trio for clarinet (or violin), cello and piano and registered as his opus 38. Contrary to expectations, it never matched the popularity of the septet, then or since. I cannot recall a really gripping recording.
This performance, by Alexander Bedenko, Kyril Zlotnikov and Itamar Golan, takes a quiet approach, seeking out intimate silences between the instrumental lines. It works like a family conversation where you don’t want to interrupt and it makes the strongest case I have yet heard for the smaller form of the jolly septet.
Brahms, who developed a late love for the clarinet, reserved the instrument for his most reflective statements, notably in the ultimate pair of clarinet sonatas opus 120. In the same burst of activity he also wrote a clarinet quintet and a clarinet trio, all for the benefit of the virtuoso player Richard Mühlfeld. The trio, opening with a languid cello line, is Brahms at his most masterful, controlling his participants like a chat-show host, never letting the content flag. Approaching death, he looks steadfastly ahead at new melodic lines. There is nothing late about late Brahms. He’s alive as you or I.
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