May 14, 2009


Brahms: Clarinet Trio in A minor; Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 for Clarinet and Piano. Loren Kitt, clarinet; Lambert Orkis, piano; David Hardy, cello. Dorian Sono Luminus. $16.99.

Vivaldi: Oboe Sonatas. Burkhard Glaetzner, oboe; Ingo Goritzki, oboe II; Karl Suske, violin; Christine Schornsheim, organ and harpsichord; Thomas Reinhardt, bassoon; Siegfried Pank, viola da gamba; Achim Beyer, violone. Capriccio. $11.99.

Gade: Sonatas Nos. 1-3 for Violin and Piano. Christina Åstrand, violin; Per Salo, piano. Dacapo. $16.99.

Glenn Gould: String Quartet in F minor; Ernest MacMillan: String Quartet in C minor; Two Sketches for String Quartet based on French Canadian Airs. Quatuor Alcan (Laura Andriani and Nathalie Camus, violins; Luc Beauchemin, viola; David Ellis, cello). ATMA Classique. $16.99.

     The intimacy of chamber music – much of which was originally written to be played at home, as a communal event – can sometimes make it more enjoyable to play than to hear. But when there is sufficient joy in the playing, chamber works come through with an emotional immediacy that larger-scale ones do not quite match. Indeed, although the title of the new all-Brahms CD by Kennedy Center Chamber Players members Loren Kitt, Lambert Orkis and David Hardy – “An Emotional Journey” – is a bit overwrought, there is no denying the intense commitment of these superb instrumentalists to these late Brahms works. The Trio, Op. 114, flows beautifully and rather sadly, as if the musicians perceive in it a struggle whose resolution, even at the end, is uncertain (the work ends in the minor). The two Sonatas, Op. 120, are simply gorgeous, with Kitt and Orkis beautifully intermingling their melodic lines and the works’ passion, grace and yearning emerging in performances of overflowing loveliness.

     Vivaldi’s five Oboe Sonatas are of a much earlier time and are, in fact, from early in Vivaldi’s own compositional career, before he focused entirely on concertos. The new Capriccio CD featuring Burkhard Glaetzner is a reissue of a 1988 disc; the performances themselves date to 1986. They have worn well: the playing is strong and idiomatic, and the very different instrumentation of the sonatas (four of which, incidentally, are in four movements, not the expected three) is highlighted to excellent effect. The Sonatas RV 28 (G minor), 34 (B-flat major) and 53 (C minor) are for oboe and basso continuo; RV 81 (G minor) is for two oboes and basso continuo and is the only work here in three movements; and RV 779 (C major) is a real curiosity, being written for violin, oboe, obbligato organ and bassoon ad lib. Despite the fact that three of these five works are in minor keys, none of them plumbs or attempts to plumb any emotional depths; but all are poised, well balanced and full of interesting instrumental touches, very well realized in this recording.

     Niels Gade’s three violin-and-piano sonatas span a large portion of his career. No. 1 (A major) dates to 1842, when Gade was 25; No. 2 (D minor) is from 1849-50; and No. 3 (B-flat major) is from 1885, five years before the composer’s death. It is scarcely surprising that the works cover very different emotional territory. No. 1 is quite Mendelssohnian (Mendelssohn was a major influence on Gade: Gade was his assistant conductor at the Leipzig Gewandhaus and, after Mendelssohn’s death, his successor) and has a well-designed finale that, surprisingly, is in A minor. No. 2 is more compressed (it is the shortest of the three sonatas) and includes an interestingly designed middle movement that is in part a slow movement and in part a scherzo. No. 3 is musically a bit of a throwback, with youthful joyousness in its themes and without the broad emotionalism of Romantic-era works of its time. Perhaps not surprisingly, it has never been particularly popular, although it is very well constructed. Christina Åstrand and Per Salo play all these works with strength, understanding and a fine sense of balance between the violin and piano parts. The only real oddity of the CD is that it presents the works in reverse chronological order. It is easy enough to change the playing order, but the 3-2-1 arrangement does seem peculiar.

     The chamber pieces by Glenn Gould and Ernest MacMillan on a new ATMA Classique CD are also quite well played, but it would be difficult to regard them as major works, although they are considered important in 20th-century Canadian music; the CD featuring them gets a (+++) rating. The most intriguing piece here is MacMillan’s String Quartet in C minor. MacMillan was in German territory when World War I broke out – he had been attending the Bayreuth Wagner Festival – and was imprisoned at Nuremberg for several months, after which he was transferred to Ruhleben (near Berlin) for the rest of the war. He wrote the first version of this quartet during that time, eventually revising it in 1921. There is no anguish in this work, which is in the traditional four movements and is well balanced among the instruments. It is a well and intelligently constructed quartet, but not music that shows a strong personality. In fact, the Two Sketches for String Quartet based on French Canadian Airs, which include Notre Seigneur en pauvre and Á Saint-Malo beau port de mer, have more character – and in their symphonic version are one of MacMillan’s most frequently played pieces. As for Glenn Gould’s Quartet in F minor, published as his Op. 1, it is his only significant original composition, completed in 1955 (when he was 23). Essentially a large Allegro in classical style, it is intellectually impressive but not particularly moving, although Quatuor Alcan certainly plays it with plenty of fervor and intensity.

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