“BEETHOVEN, BRAHMS, WEBER” = BEETHOVEN: Clarinet Trio; BRAHMS: Clarinet Trio; WEBER: Grand Duo Concertant – Jon Manasse, clar./ Jon Nakamatsu, p./ Clive Greensmith, cello – Harmonia mundi

“BEETHOVEN, BRAHMS, WEBER” = BEETHOVEN: Clarinet Trio, Op. 11; BRAHMS: Clarinet Trio, Op. 114; WEBER: Grand Duo Concertant, for clarinet and piano, Op. 48 – Jon Manasse, clar./ Jon Nakamatsu, p./ Clive Greensmith, cello – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD HMU 807618, 67:29 (11/11/14) *****(*): 

Every once in a while a disc comes along so good that I would award it six stars if my editor allowed such things. This new recording from Harmonia mundi of two glorious clarinet trios and one delicious clarinet and piano trifle, is such an animal: a marriage of music, performance and sound.

The playing by Jon Manasse, Jon Nakamatsu and Clive Greensmith is most miraculous in the Beethoven. It is a well-known work of definite appeal, although while the key of B flat great for the clarinet it is awkward for the cello. As Beethoven heard it in 1797, of course, the instruments and the playing style were lighter and the balance a piece of cake; the joyful extent to which Manasse, Nakamatsu and Greensmith capture those essential qualities of lightness and delicacy with wonderfully-judged, occasionally exhilarating speeds reveling in color and texture also serves as a model for what is possible on modern instruments.

Clive Greensmith, cellist of the former Tokyo Quartet, now at Colburn School in Los Angeles, invests himself so personally and virtuosically in the opening theme of the Brahms Clarinet Trio, and all the great cello solo opportunities that follow throughout, that he alone would make this recording special; in fact, the performance that three give is a masterpiece of phrasing, timbre and integration, flowing along with a timeless sense of right that transcends interpretation.

Putting Weber’s Grand Duo Concertant for clarinet and piano, with its seductively romantic, Der Freischütz-type interludes, makes a perfect transitional piece between the two trios. Manasse and Nakamatsu do wonders for the slow movement, which can be tedious; no problem with the fast outer movements, they are played with even more delicious abandon than usual.

The utterly natural recordings, which open up even more exhilaratingly in SACD surround mode, were made in 2013 at the American Academy of Arts  and Letters in New York; Nakamatsu played a Hamburg Steinway D, and the executive producer was Robina Young showing off her iconic ability to use digital technology to produce analog quality sound. Gavin Plumley contributes a short, insightful, elegantly- written guide to the music with just the right amount of technical details if you want to show your knowledge of key signatures and things at your next chamber music party.

—Laurence Vittes

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