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Brahms: Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet No. 2 / Sharon Kam, Jerusalem Quartet


Release Date: 04/09/2013 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 902152   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Sharon Kam
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jerusalem String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115 . String Quartet No. 2, Op. 51/2 Sharon Kam (cl); Jerusalem Qrt HARMONIA MUNDI 902152 (71:12)

This is the second outstanding account of Brahms’s magnificent Clarinet Quintet that we’ve had from Harmonia Mundi this year; see Fanfare 36:4 for my review of the version by Jon Manasse and the Tokyo Quartet. There may be an explanation for the Read more duplication, though: Harmonia Mundi USA, which produced the Manasse, seems to be a semi-autonomous operation, distinct from the European parent company, which is responsible for the present issue. In any event, it’s our gain, since Sharon Kam and the Jerusalem Quartet give a luminous performance, along with the quartet’s superb reading of the A-Minor String Quartet.

The ideal clarinet sound should be something like a good cup of coffee: dark, rich, and complex. Sharon Kam has such a sound, and plays here with a degree of dynamic subtlety that equals that of the finest accounts of this work. Where Manasse, who also plays beautifully, sounds like a soloist in his more closely miked version, Kam blends completely into the ensemble in the many passages in which the first violin has the primary line. Her pianissimo s, as in the coda of the second movement, are gorgeous, and perfectly controlled. Her first movement is a bit more leisurely than Manasse’s, otherwise the two readings are interpretively quite similar. My only quibble with the performance is that, in the second movement’s central Piú lento section, she seems not to hold a few of the tied notes for full value; it’s a small blemish on a superb reading.

I have discussed Kam’s playing at some length, but must also credit the Jerusalem Quartet for its role in the performance; their sound is beautifully full and well balanced, their intonation dead-on. Cellist Kyril Zlotnikov anchors the group, playing Jacqueline du Pré’s cello, on loan from Daniel Barenboim. As for the A-Minor Quartet, it is by no means easy music, but the Jerusalem Quartet gives a reading worthy of sharing this disc with the quintet. The pacing is ideal and the ensemble impeccable. The touchstone passage at Figure S in the first movement, with its simultaneous triplets, eighth-notes, and syncopations, is honestly and cleanly projected, with none of the frantic quality that sometimes characterizes renderings of this passage. The Pianissimo at Figure U in the finale, immediately preceding the Piú vivace coda, is wonderfully ethereal.

Kam has recorded mostly for Teldec and Berlin Classics; she is the guest here, Harmonia Mundi being the quartet’s label. Let’s hope they go on to record Brahms’s other two string quartets. This is, start to finish, a most distinguished Brahms CD and an early favorite to make my annual Want List. Enthusiastically recommended!

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan Read less

Works on This Recording

1. Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op. 115 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Sharon Kam (Clarinet)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jerusalem String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891; Austria 
2. Quartet for Strings no 2 in A minor, Op. 51 no 2 by Johannes Brahms
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jerusalem String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865-1873; Austria 

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