BRAHMS Horn Trio in E?, op. 40.1 Clarinet Trio in a, op. 1142 • Lars Michael Stransky (hn);1 Peter Wächter (vn);1 Hiromi Okada (pn);1,2 Peter Schmidl (cl);2 Tamás Varga (vc)2Read more• CAMERATA 28075 (54:12)
By contemporary accounts, Brahms was a fairly accomplished horn player. He loved the sound of the instrument and wrote magnificently for it in his orchestral scores. It has always seemed surprising therefore that his 1865 Trio in E? for Horn, Violin, and Piano is the only piece of chamber music he wrote to feature the horn. The score offers plenty of opportunities for the horn to display its virtuosic capabilities, particularly in the faster paced second and fourth movements; but the first and third movements, as well as the central section of the Scherzo, emphasize the horn’s glowing golden sound in some of Brahms’s most gorgeous heart-throbbing passages.
My longtime benchmark recording in this work has been the one with Barry Tuckwell, Itzhak Perlman, and Vladimir Ashkenazy. But my one dissatisfaction with it has always been the sound, which is congested and, at dynamic peaks, makes the horn sound unfocused. This new recording from the Japanese label Camerata is a vast improvement in sound, and the performance is absolutely glorious. Lars Michael Stransky, since 1993 first horn in the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera orchestras, is secure in technique and possesses a pure, rounded, clarion tone that shines through the densest textures. This now becomes my new favorite recording of Brahms’s horn trio.
In the A-Minor Clarinet Trio, Peter Schmidl, first clarinet in the Vienna Philharmonic and a member of the New Vienna Octet and the Vienna Wind Soloists ensembles, is excellent, but he is also up against some formidable competition, namely Richard Stoltzman with Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax, and a relatively recent release with Martin Fröst, Torleif Thedéen, and Roland Pöntinen that much impressed me. The current performance by Schmidl, Tamás Varga, and Hiromi Okada is very fine in terms of execution, but I found it to be a bit on the cool side; somehow; it just didn’t quite engage me on an emotional level. Admittedly, it is a much later work than the horn trio, more musically and emotionally complex, and in Brahms’s somewhat ambivalent mode of expression, which makes it more difficult to interpret. I do not wish to convey the impression that there is any serious failing in this performance; it is, as I said, very fine. It just wouldn’t be my first choice.