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Brahms, Rheinberger: Clarinet Sonatas / Van Den Oudenweijer, Eijsackers

Release Date: 06/14/2011 
Label:  Challenge   Catalog #: 72505   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johannes BrahmsJoseph Rheinberger
Performer:  Lars Wouters Van Den OudenweijerHans Eijsackers
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS Clarinet Sonatas: No. 1; No. 2. RHEINBERGER Clarinet Sonata, op. 105a Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer (cl); Hans Eijsackers (pn) CHALLENGE CC 72505 (65:43)

This CD comes not quite two years after the release, also on Challenge Classics, of Max Reger’s three clarinet sonatas played by these same two Dutch musicians; I reviewed that CD in Fanfare 33:4, and Read more it made my 2010 Want List. To report that the present renditions of Brahms’s sonatas fall just a bit short of the same distinguished level is hardly to find fault with them; rather, it is perhaps to praise them with faint damns. As in the Reger, Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer displays a smooth, even tone and a complete technical command; pianist Hans Eijsackers manages the formidable difficulties of Brahms’s piano parts (which were written for himself) without audible difficulty. Together they don’t merely play the music; rather, they interpret it, in the best sense of the word. For example, in the first movement of the Second Sonata in E?, their reading is easygoing but eventful: Wouters in particular plays up the music’s contrasts, shaping and punctuating phrases in a subtle but telling way. In the third movement, he and Eijsackers characterize each variation uniquely, without losing the sense of continuity. This is intelligent, thinking music-making without ever sounding merely calculated or precious. The F-Minor Sonata is treated similarly, although the tempo of the last movement precludes much subtlety.

So, you may fairly ask, what are my reservations? On this CD Wouters’s sound is not as finely focused as, say, Jon Manasse’s in his superb recording of these sonatas with Jon Nakamatsu ( Fanfare 31:5); also, he plays a number of passages too legato , as for example the triplet arpeggios in the development of the first movement of the E?-Major Sonata. The recording, further, is a little glassy, and the clarinet relatively prominent, making Wouters sound just a bit harsh. These are not huge drawbacks, but they do keep this version of Brahms’s sonatas out of the top tier, where in addition to Manasse I would place older recordings by Harold Wright and David Shifrin.

As for the sonata by Joseph Rheinberger (1839–1901), it is actually the composer’s transcription of his Second Violin Sonata, transposed from E Minor to the uncommon key of E?-Minor. Written at the height of the Romantic century, the work is more extravagant in its expression than Brahms’s subtle essays, and Wouters’s playing is accordingly more flamboyant. The tessitura of the clarinet part shows that the rewriting was not very extensive; the altissimo register is used freely, up to the instrument’s top B?. Still, clarinetists have no superfluity of 19th-century sonatas, so the piece is worth having in this form. I reviewed the recording on Atma by André Moisan and Jean Saulnier in 31:5; both versions make about as much of the piece as can be made, so the coupling may be the deciding factor.

Only the most demanding listener will be disappointed by this recording, which is recommended with the qualifications given above.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Clarinet/Viola and Piano no 2 in E flat major, Op. 120 no 2 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Lars Wouters Van Den Oudenweijer (Clarinet), Hans Eijsackers (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894; Germany 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2 in E minor, Op. 105 by Joseph Rheinberger
Performer:  Lars Wouters Van Den Oudenweijer (Clarinet), Hans Eijsackers (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: Germany 

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