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In Friendship

Brahms / Cano / Alexander String Quartet
Release Date: 02/14/2012 
Label:  Foghorn Classics   Catalog #: 2007   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  César CanoJohannes Brahms
Performer:  Joan Enric Lluna
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alexander String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 0 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CANO Clarinet Quintet. BRAHMS Clarinet Quintet • Alexander Qrt; Joan Enric Lluna (cl) • FOGHORN 2007 (59:38)

This album, titled In Friendship, is particularly remarkable for César Cano’s Clarinet Quintet, written in 2011 for his good friend and former classmate Joan Enric Lluna. In the liner notes, Lluna recalls their days in harmony class at the Valencia Conservatory, how demanding their teacher was, and how he and Cano were the only two pupils left at the end of the first semester. Cano also graciously provided notes for the listener, explaining in part what one can hear (that the music uses a wide variety of juxtaposed notes and rhythms, composed in such a way as to provide a steady flow while constantly challenging
Read more the performers), and some things that are not immediately obvious, such as that one of Cano’s guiding aesthetic goals is “finding that balance between organic and coherent simplicity and necessary complexity, which is never arbitrary, ostentatious, or pretentious.” I can state unequivocally that he succeeds brilliantly. This is music with sharp edges, even in the string writing—no “easy-listening classical” here!—yet which keeps up the interest of even the casual classical listener while it challenges and delights the experienced ear with polyrhythms, counterpoint, and in the second movement, oblique rhythms written in 3/4 time but played by the strings in ricochet, imitating each other as in an echo. There is virtually nothing in Cano’s writing that is simple or formulaic, yet despite the chromatic, atonal harmonic movement he creates enough short melodic fragments (for both the clarinet and the strings) to appeal to the layman.

Perhaps the one exception to this is the third movement, titled “Cantos Oblicuos” or “Oblique Chants.” Here, the sliding glissandi of the strings, occasionally complemented by slow, fast 16ths, creates at the outset the kind of “melting clock” sound one usually experiences in a Leif Segerstam piece. (I am particularly reminded of Segerstam’s String Quartet No. 6, the final movement, dedicated to the ghost of Gustav Mahler.) The last movement, titled “Pulso Florido” and eventually becoming tremendously energetic and rhythmic, begins softly before moving into what sounds to the naked ear—at first—as a quirky but regular 3/4 or 3/8 pulse, but which eventually turns out to be an alternation of 7/8, 8/8, and 9/8 meters. Again, short melodic fragments help act as little signposts for the listener, as those brief motifs are used in a very clever and original fashion to create a short (five-minute) but well-conceived structure. This is a marvelous work, and it is marvelously performed by Lluna with the Alexander Quartet.

By contrast, the famous Brahms Clarinet Quintet almost sounds out of place on this disc because of its much more formal structure. The feeling of wonder and excitement created by the Cano piece is here replaced by a more romantic, older type of expression. Nevertheless, Lluna and the string quartet manage to keep the music feeling light and buoyant. Their performance never bogs down into heavy-handed romantic solipsism but, rather, keeps exploring and pushing the boundaries of Brahms’s score in such a way that your interest remains piqued. It’s been a while since I’ve heard another performance of this work, but honestly, I can’t recall it making as strong an impression on me as it does in this recording.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough. It’s a gem.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for clarinet & strings, Op. 74 by César Cano
Performer:  Joan Enric Lluna (Clarinet)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alexander String Quartet
Written: 2011 
Venue:  St Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belvedere 
Length: 19 Minutes 46 Secs. 
Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op. 115 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Joan Enric Lluna (Clarinet)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alexander String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891; Austria 
Venue:  St Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belvedere 
Length: 38 Minutes 27 Secs. 

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