Jerusalem Quartet / Sharon Kam

Brahms: Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet No. 2

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Brahms' Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, is among the masterpieces of his last years, suffused with deep nostalgia and achieving as keen a balance of intellect and emotion as anything else Brahms ever wrote. Consider the beginning of the first movement, where the most gentle whispering of memory are combined with an incredibly intricate balance between B minor and D major that is never really resolved over the course of the movement. On top of this is the balance between the clarinetist and the string quartet, which may be combined in several ways with the work's other intricacies. Clarinetist Sharon Kam's performance is strikingly quiet: she generally submerges the clarinet in the string quartet texture, letting it emerge in the extremely subtle transitions that are among the work's hallmarks. Overall, the performance is shadowy, quietly sad, and extremely evocative. It may not be to everyone's taste, but it's lovely, and the work is one of those that can stand up to multiple approaches. The String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 51/2, is a brighter work, despite its minor key, with a relaxed, pastoral quality; the lush, highly melodic approach of the Jerusalem Quartet here is also only one approach of several, but is beautifully executed. The Clarinet Quintet, if it happens to resonate sympathetically, may be experienced as one of the most emotionally affecting readings of this work on recordings. Sample the extraordinary opening bars of the quintet to learn whether you're part of this group. Harmonia Mundi's sound engineering, from Berlin's Teldex Studios, is superb.

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