Arthur Campbell

Brahms: Clarinet Chamber Music

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This recording of the Brahms Op. 114 Clarinet Trio has some good things going for it. The ensemble between the three musicians is generally very good, and each of the three artists seems to present a unified idea of the musical product they're trying to produce. Intonation is also quite solid, even when the clarinet and cello are performing in unison or octaves. It's also an SACD, and connoisseurs of that format will certainly appreciate having the work available to them with the enhanced fidelity that SACD offers. However, even this increased sound quality is not enough to overcome the two major shortcomings of this particular recording. The first problem is balance. This is a notoriously difficult piece for cellists because they are up against two instruments that individually could cover their sound many times over. Cellist Daniel Raclot doesn't quite get the job done; his sound in tutti forte passages is often hopelessly lost, and in the beautiful, soaring, lyrical lines that Brahms gave the cello, his sound comes across as quite strident and forced. The second major shortcoming is rhythmic vitality. All too often, rhythms are too "mushy." Dotted rhythms aren't quite dotted enough, hemiolas are not as pronounced as they could be, and even energetic forth movement comes across as rather soft around the edges. The two sonatas of Op. 120 obviously do not have to contend with the balance issue surrounding the cello, but the lack of rhythmic clarity dulls what would otherwise be a satisfactory performance by clarinetist Arthur Campbell. For the Op. 114 Trio, listeners may wish to check out recordings by either Ax/Ma/Stoltzman or Pressler/Greenhouse/Pieterson.

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