Joan Enric Lluna / Tokyo String Quartet

Brahms: Clarinet Quintet; Clarinet Trio

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Composed in his final creative phase, Brahms' darkly colored Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, and the expressive Trio for clarinet, cello, and piano in A minor, Op. 114, are among the most revered and consistently performed of his chamber works. Their enduring popularity has led to an abundance of recordings of each, though these two masterpieces are infrequently paired. Harmonia Mundi's 2003 release is a satisfying disc that offers handsome performances with excellent sound, and the musicians are impressive. Joan Enric Lluna, the esteemed Spanish clarinetist, is joined by the renowned Tokyo String Quartet in the performance of the Quintet, and by cellist Lluis Claret and pianist Josep Colom in the Trio. Lluna's tone is most enjoyable in the clarinet's chalumeau register, but can be a little annoying in the higher range, where he sometimes bends pitches slightly to get his expressive shadings. Yet Lluna's passionate Duende style of playing touches on Clara Schumann's observation about the clarinet's wailing tone, which she found so poignant in these works, and many will find Lluna's performances penetrating and moving. The Tokyo Quartet's playing is rich and warm, and Claret and Colom share a balanced partnership with Lluna, with some minimization of the cello's peculiarly dominant role.

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