Wednesday 2nd December 2015

Beethoven – Trio in Bb major, Op.11
Brahms – Clarinet Sonata No.2 in Eb major, Op.120
Beethoven – Cello Sonata No.3 in A major, Op.69
Brahms – Clarinet Trio in A minor, Op. 114

Michael Collins has been referred to by The Times as 'one of the best clarinettists walking the planet'. Popular with Ilkley Concert Club members, he is known for his incomparable skill and musicianship. German-born Leonard Elschenbroich, a former BBC New Generation Artist, is considered to be one of the most charismatic young cellists around. The 'instantly engaging' Michael McHale is one of the leading Irish pianists of his generation.

Two of the late Brahms works for clarinet inspired by the playing of another extraordinary virtuoso are combined with Beethoven's early clarinet trio and his lyrical and self-confident op. 69 cello sonata to give an evening of delights.


Core Repertoire Brilliantly Played for the Ilkley Concert Club

Although far from recondite the previous Dvorak and Janacek programme had clearly been a step too far for some, so for them this one was a welcome return to the familiar judging by the lack of empty seats. For all it was an evening of superb performances. The programme of music by just two composers had been cleverly devised to give maximum variety. Trios for clarinet, cello and piano by Beethoven and Brahms leavened by sonatas for cello and clarinet respectively.

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Throughout pianist Michael McHale gave superb support to his colleagues, especially so in the Brahms items whose piano parts are both difficult and often over-stuffed with notes. Yet never once did he overwhelm his partners; for me he was the unsung hero of the evening.

But that is not to downgrade the others. I have admired Michael Collins’ playing since his early days with the London Sinfonietta. He was as ever marvellous, dynamic when required to be but also supremely sensitive. Cellist Leonard Elschenbroich was new to me and his playing was full of beauty of line and eloquent expressiveness.

The concert began with the early Beethoven Trio op.11, a work full of exuberant invention and energy to which the performers responded with delight. From youth to older age with Brahms’ second clarinet sonata, a work which like much ‘late ‘ Brahms can succumb to melancholy if not played with the backbone that Collins and McHale brought to it.

Then it was Elschenbroich’s turn to shine with Beethoven’s glorious A Major Sonata op. 69. Tough competition here, all the world’s great cellists have made memorable recordings of it, but he held his own with playing that was inward when required to be and full-toned and extravert elsewhere, ably supported by his ever-attentive ‘accompanist’.

Finally more ‘late’ Brahms. His Trio op 114. put the trio back together for a performance that showed their empathetic sense of ensemble and joy in music-making. It was greeted by rapturous and richly deserved applause.


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Recommended Recordings


Beethoven Trio, Op.11

An excellent, very cheap, disc from EMI/Warner (6 36466 2) has the Beethoven Trio plus both Brahms Clarinet Sonatas, played by Gervase de Peyer (clarinet), Daniel Barenboim (piano), and Jacqueline du Pre (cello).The performances are splendid and the recording quality is very good.

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Brahms Clarinet Sonata, Op.120/2

The superb Scandinavian clarinet player, Martin Fröst, with his pianist Roland Pontinen and the cellist Torleif Thedeen, are on the BIS label, BIS SACD1353 (full price), and include both Clarinet Sonatas and the Clarinet Trio. The performances are superb, and the recording quality is up to BIS’s usual high standard. This is my first choice for both works. The budget choice is included in the Beethoven paragraph above. Mention must be made of the excellent recording of the 2 Clarinet Sonatas by Michael Collins and Michael McHale on Chandos CHAN 10844 (full price), which includes works by Carl Reinecke.

Beethoven Cello Sonata, Op.69

All the Cello Sonatas and Variations are included in a fine medium priced 2 disc set from Channel Classics (CCSSA 22605-SACD). Pieter Wispelwey (cello) and Dejan Lazic (piano) are the very able performers, and the recording quality is excellent. A very good, fairly new, budget alternative, is provided by Timora Rosler (cello) and Klara Wurtz (piano) on Brilliant Classics 94624.

Brahms Clarinet Trio, Op.114

My prime recommendation is shown above, but a pleasing budget alternative, which includes the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, is on Naxos 8.550391. Józef Balogh (clarinet), Jeno Jandó (piano), and the Danubius Quartet are the experienced performers.

All the SACD’s mentioned play on standard CD players.

Raymond Waud.

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