Music for Clarinet & Piano by DRAESEKE, MENDELSSOHN, BEETHOVOEN & BURGMULLER – Pierce-Aomori Duo/Daniel Barrett, cello – MSR Classics

by | Jan 18, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

FELIX DRAESEKE: Sonata in B-flat for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 38; MENDELSSOHN: Concert Piece No. 1 in F Minor for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 113; Concert Piece No. 2 in D Minor for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 114; NORBERT BURGMÜLLER: Duo in E-flat for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 13; BEETHOVEN: Trio in E-flat for Piano, Clarinet, and Cello, Op. 11 “Gassenhauer” – Pierce-Aomori Duo /Daniel Barrett, cello – MSR Classics MS 1382 [Distr. by Albany], 71:29 ****:

Here is a very generous and appealing program from MSR, who seem to specialize in this sort of themed album. We have less-often-heard music for clarinet and piano, most of which should definitely be programmed more frequently. The chief find is perhaps the Duo (1834) by Norbert Burgmüller, a friend of both Schumann and Mendelssohn. A gifted composer, he managed to leave behind a piano concerto, an especially precocious piano sonata, four string quartets, and two symphonies before he died by drowning during an epileptic fit, aged only twenty-six. His composing friends rightly considered his death a tragedy of large proportions. A student of Louis Spohr, Burgmüller seems, on the evidence of the Duo, to be more forward-looking than his teacher. In fact, to these ears this lovely work is remarkably prognosticative of later Romantic music, sounding in places like the richly nostalgic strains of Brahms’s chamber music.

Despite the claims in the notes to this recording that Felix Draeseke (1834-1913) managed to bridge the divide between the Leipzig School of Mendelssohn and the New German School of Liszt and Wagner, thus anticipating the music of Wolf and Reger, I don’t hear much that takes us beyond the Brahms of the 1880s in Draeseke’s 1887 Sonata. Its melodies are colored by greater chromaticism perhaps, but their optimistic effusiveness reminds me, at least in character, of earlier composers of a Leipzigerich persuasion such as Carl Reinecke or Joachim Raff. Maybe an even better comparison would be to Brahms admirers Heinrich von Herzogenberg and Karl Goldmark, both of whom cultivated a much more folkish style than Brahms did. Unluckily, Draeseke’s Sonata also reminds me of Brahms’s shrewd bon mot about the fact that it’s “easy to compose but wonderfully hard to let the superfluous notes fall under the table.” There seem to be more than a few superfluous notes in Draeseke’s composition, the Scherzo third movement especially having a tendency to go on a bit, other places in the music seeming to devolve into note-spinning. Still, it has an attractive first movement, and the bubbly last movement is pretty infectious as well. It’s not indispensible music, maybe, but is a pleasant listen overall.

Mendelssohn’s two Concert Pieces are better-known to clarinetists, and they have their choice of the chamber treatment recorded here as well as of an orchestral version. As with others of Mendelssohn’s compositions, the opus numbers are greatly misleading: the pieces were composed in 1832 for the clarinet virtuoso brothers Heinrich and Carl Bärmann—Weber had composed his two clarinet concertos and Concertino for Heinrich. The pieces were originally written for clarinet, basset clarinet, and piano, but the current arrangement with cello is very satisfying – the cello providing a more burnished, more echt-Romantic sound to the proceedings. The Concert Pieces both feature introductions with an almost operatic drama about them, alternating with more lyric passages. The lively finales let the clarinetist show off his virtuoso stuff.

Finally, there’s Beethoven’s “Gassenhauer” Trio of 1798, so named because it includes a tune taken from the trio in a popular opera by Joseph Weigl. (Gassenhauer means, very roughly translated, “popular trio” or “trio from a popular work.”) It may not be top-drawer Beethoven, but it represents early Beethoven at his most confident and exuberant, and the performance here matches those qualities to the nines. Indeed, the performances throughout by clarinetist Hideaki Aomori, pianist Joshua Pierce, and cellist Daniel Barrett are polished, enthusiastic in the extreme, and thoroughly virtuosic when that’s called for. Nor are the melting lyrical passages of Burgmüller and Mendelssohn slighted. With a fine recording captured in the Lefrak Concert Hall at SUNY, Queens, this disk should provide inspiration to clarinetists and much enjoyable listening for the rest of us.

— Lee Passarella

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