BRAHMS: Clarinet Quintet in b; Hindemith: Clarinet Quintet – Raphael Severe, clar./ Quatour Prazak – Mirare

Two German clarinet quintets from opposed aesthetics find brilliant realization in these performances from Prague.

BRAHMS: Clarinet Quintet in b, Op. 115; Hindemith: Clarinet Quintet, Op. 30 – Raphael Severe, clarinet/ Quatour Prazak – Mirare MIR 282, 58:00 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Recorded February and May 2015, these two German clarinet quintets in diametrically opposing styles feature the young French clarinet virtuoso Raphael Severe, who has already gained prestige for his mellifluous talent. The 1891 Brahms Clarinet Quintet remains his most glorious autumnal work, the expression of a man who had already “dismissed” his creative energy, only to have found renewal in his meeting with Richard Muehfeld of the Meiningen Orchestra.  Romantic in content and classical in its form, the Brahms Quintet takes its cue from the works of Mozart and Weber in the same format. The emotional constituent remains primarily nostalgia, tinted by hints of gypsy influence and Mozart’s penchant for variations. After two idyllic movements, the third reveals – as in the Symphony No. 1 – the composer’s taste for five-bar phrases and a more spacious sonority. The fourth movement, a series of variants, allows each member of the string quartet, besides the solo clarinet, to participate in its own color to the evolution of the music. The warmth of the Prazak Quartet, particularly in its first violin part (Pavel Huela) and viola (Josef Kluson) complement the liquid, burnished tones from Severe, whose low chalumeau register competes with the luster we know from Leopold Wlach and Reginald Kell.

The Hindemith Clarinet Quintet (1923; rev. 1954) appears to be a suite of five movements, mainly in miniatures. Its expression, however, lies far from Brahms in a more convulsive, Dionysiac frame of mind we attribute to the throes of the Weimar Republic and its oncoming demise. Architecturally coherent, the first and last movements prove to be mirror images of each other. The slow movement evolves directly from the first movement, moving slowly in fugal progress. The clarinet part slows the tempo down in augmented tones. The central movement, Schneller Laendler, perhaps mocks aspects of Mahler, almost in a violent spirit akin to Bartok, with a dizzy motion that includes gypsy and organ grinder effects.  Severe weaves in and out of the drunken medley with firm and lyrical tones, fraught with irony. Michal Kanka’s cello sings out, though “singing” is the appropriate term only in the Trio section.  The Arioso fourth movement offers a moment, however brief, of exotic repose. First violin Huela intones over a plucked bass line a weirdly sinuous invocation rife with sliding figures. The clarinet three times responds with small gestures, like a penitent to a muezzin’s call. The last movement – the first played in reverse – moves in dizzy cancrizans, the perfect mirror of an imperfect world captured on a music label itself a rubric for the looking-glass. Sound quality – courtesy of Karel Soukenik and Vaclav Roubal – is top flight.

—Gary Lemco

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