La Scena Musicale

Thursday, July 9, 2009

An Emotional Journey: Clarinet Works of Johannes Brahms

Kennedy Center Chamber Players (Loren Kitt, clarinet; Lambert Orkis, piano; David Hardy, cello)
Dorian Sono Luminus DSL-90902 (65 min 15 s)
*** $$$$

This disc contains all the clarinet works of Brahms’ late period except for the Quintet. I must confess that I have always considered these pieces to be second-rate Brahms and this new recording doesn’t change my opinion. The Quintet is a glorious piece but these works often seems tedious and uninspired. Clarinetists love them, of course, but then they have precious few works by major composers to call their own.

The performers are all members of the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C., and the best-known is undoubtedly pianist Lambert Orkis. He is Anne-Sophie Mutter’s regular sonata partner and a fine artist. But listening to these performances I began to feel that either his personality was too strong or that of his colleague’s too weak. Especially in the sonatas clarinetist Loren Kitt plays beautifully but in a self-effacing kind of way. I think it is also Brahms’ fault in giving the piano much more to do. The notes by Kitt and Orkis are more interesting than the performances.

- Paul E. Robinson

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