Beautifully crafted, subtly coloured
Martin Fröst (clarinet)
Janine Jansen and Boris Brovtsyn (violins),
Maxim Rysanov (viola), Torleif Thedéen (cello)
BIS BIS 2063
Just when you think you know a piece of music, along comes a performance that opens new channels – and it makes you wonder if you’ve ever heard it quite rightly before. Take that ‘fading smile’ opening. Is that the end of the matter? ★as melancholy won even before the clarinet has entered for the first time, or is this a work of many moods, each to be valued on its own terms?
The latter impression is the one conveyed by this exceptionally rich reading from 2014. It can be something very small: the rapid clarinet ripples in the third movement for instance, like the glint of a fish turning in a deep pool. Or it can be a beautifully engineered transition, like the hushed, deepeningly mysterious turn into the first movement development section, expertly led by Swedish player
This is a performance that reminds the listener what chamber music is all about
Martin Fröst’s velvety low pianissimo, something at which he excels
There are passages where the lightness of the touch and of the tread, the clarity of the textures, is almost startling. Where’s the heaviness, the sedentary quality that often seems the less appealing side of the ‘autumnal’ Brahms? The older composer doesn’t just recall his youth, he re-inhabits it – momentarily at least. The melancholy, the feeling of loss is here too. It can be deeply sad, but it’s the kind of sadness that can be enjoyed – until the ending, perhaps. The slow movement’s clarinet melody, sounding quietly but clearly through an exquisite mist of muted strings, touches deeply, but it’s also very pleasurable. Brahms has a poignant tale to unfold, but he does so with a fine cigar in one hand, and an agreeably chilled glass of Grüner Veltliner within easy reach.
This is also a performance that reminds the listener – just as vividly as a wellplayed ★aydn string quartet – what chamber music is really about. Fröst
shines, but he also doesn’t dominate.
And the vocal qualities in his playing are answered and enriched by the other four instruments. It can be just two notes, like an intake of breath or a quizzically raised eyebrow – just enough to remind us what a profoundly shared experience this performance is. The excellent recording captures all this admirably, giving us the privileged impression that we’re close enough to the musicians to be able to feel some of this togetherness for ourselves. At the same time there is something about this music that remains enigmatic, veiled, and it’s all the better for that.
A strong lead: revel in clarinettist Martin Fröst’s rich tone