“Autumn” = BRUCH: 8 Pieces, Op. 83; BRAHMS: Clarinet Trio, Op. 114 – B3 Classic Trio – Non-Profit Music multichannel SACD 1010, 66:08 ***1/2:
I believe this is the first Non-Profit release I have encountered that actually has a catalog number on it, so I guess the powers that be decided it was important to finally act like they are a bona-fide record company. So far I have been very impressed with the releases coming across my desk. This one, in terms of sound at least, is no different; the sonics are vibrant, warm, rich, three-dimensional, and very flattering to the instruments. This sort of sound also works well when the music under consideration is Bruch and Brahms, two “dark” composers whose music well reflects the title of this release, “Autumn”, though sometimes I think that this metaphor is overdone.
Bruch’s Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano is often done with viola instead of cello, a combination I actually prefer, but the cello still works well. (The viola is in fact the specified instrument, with violin indicated as a substitute for the clarinet.) This work, written in 1910, appeared at a time when the modern age was in full force, and the great experiments that would dominate the musical scene for the next 70 years were well underway. Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bartok, and Debussy had already made great strides in shaking the musical public, and composers like Bruch, already at the end of his career and a confirmed conservative Brahmsian, was at odds with 90 per cent of what he heard. One might have wondered if Bruch realized that Brahms himself was once considered reactionary.
But these pieces, the first fruits of his retirement, are in many ways harmonically and melodically daring, the full equal of anything being done at that time, and certainly the composer’s chamber music masterpieces. They were not necessarily intended to be played in sequence or even all together, and each work is a concentrated microcosm of explosive romantic intensity, often of searing beauty. The work is being played more these days, but still is relatively infrequent in the concert halls. The B3 Trio takes advantage of all the benefits of SA surround, and play with passion as well, though there are some spots where intonation appears to be a problem, most noticeably in the cello. I will take it as a given that this combination of instruments is not the easiest to tame, but it drew my attention away from the music, and that is not a good sign. Fortunately it was not chronic, and I still enjoyed the performances.
The Brahms Clarinet Trio was one of those amazing late-in-life products of the association between the composer and the Meiningen Orchestra clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld, a collaboration responsible for some of the most famous and justly acclaimed chamber pieces in all of music. Brahms adored Muhlfeld’s playing, considering him to be the sine qua non of the instrument. The work is played and recorded often, and is at no loss for worthy and famous performances. This one is very good indeed, and captures nicely the mellow alto fluidity of Brahms’s middle register instrumentation. The SACD sound is roundly bellowed in the lower, darker range while allowing for songlike utterances in those rare moments of ecstatic flight. Nicely done by all concerned, and the production booklet is first-class. [What an odd name choice for a classical trio: B3! It stands for something quite different in the jazz world, which the performers must not have known about…Ed.]
— Steven Ritter