Brahms — Clarinet and Piano Quintets. Jon Manasse, clarinet/Jon Nakamatsu, piano/Tokyo String Quartet/harmoni mundi

by Audiophilia on October 31, 2012 · 1 comment

in Classical Recordings

by Anthony Kershaw

The names Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu are not new to me, but they occupy the B list when compiling concert soloists for the very top in the classical music world. This reality is no fault of their artistry, which is for both at the highest level. Musically, they are A list artists.

I have followed Nakamatsu’s career with interest since he won the Van Cliburn Piano Competition fifteen years ago. Not bad for a high school German teacher with no conservatory training. And Manasse is one of the plethora of Juilliard trained clarinetists with technique to burn and innate musicality and an expressive tone. All these qualities are born to bear from both wonderful musicians in excellent performances of Brahms’ Quintets.

This yet to be released [Nov 13, 2012] harmonia mundi France CD features the Clarinet Quintet, Op.115 and Piano Quintet, Op.34.

Much has been written about both masterpieces — the autumnal quality of the Clarinet Quintet and the exuberance and youthful Piano Quintet, exquisite melodies, flawless structure, gorgeous harmonies — all these attributes are captured to perfection by both soloists and the brilliant Tokyo String Quartet. Since the early days of this legendary quartet’s recordings on DGG, it has remained one of my top quartets.

I don’t know the Piano Quintet well, but I found Nakamatsu to be very expressive and he imbues his performance with the energy Brahms requires. As for the Clarinet Quintet, it is one of my favourite works and I’ve heard it many times live and on recording. harmonia mundi’s recording is well balanced — each instrument sounds natural in timbre and is placed in a lifelike acoustic, with the two ‘solo’ instruments slightly to the fore.

As for the Clarinet Quintet, Manasse certainly would be an excellent choice for the ‘American Sound’ (no vibrato, Buffet clarinets) and modern recording with an ace string quartet. For something a little different, the ‘English Sound’ (vibrato, Boosey & Hawkes 10/10 clarinets) of Thea King with the Gabrieli Quartet on Hyperion is a classy choice. But, if you want the best, you’ll have to defer the the ‘German System’ clarinet of Karl Leister (of von Karajan’s Berlin Philharmoniker) on DGG. I have the original LP and it is one of my top chamber recordings. A performance of genius.

harmonia mundi 807558
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