Ralph Manno / Alfredo Perl

Johannes Brahms: Clarinet Quintet Op. 115; Piano Quintet Op. 34; Clarinet Sonatas Op. 120

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Although clarinetist Ralph Manno and pianist Alfredo Perl don't have huge reputations on this side of the Atlantic, this two-disc set of chamber music by Brahms released on Oehms gives them a moment to shine. One disc contains the composer's autumnal, late-period clarinet sonatas, the other, his late clarinet quintet plus his heroic middle period piano quintet. Although all the performances are excellent, the standouts are the sonatas. There, Manno's limpid tone, agile technique, and ingratiating tone, and Perl's warm sonorities, subtle phrasing, and poised sense of rhythm are shown to best effect, along with both performers' exceedingly sympathetic interpretations of these familiar masterpieces. In the clarinet quintet and the piano quintet, Manno and Perl play just as well, and while their accompanists are sensitive, they are not quite as sympathetic, and the resulting readings seem somewhat stiff in comparison to Manno and Perl's nearly telepathic interpretations of the sonatas. Oehms' sound is typically clean, but a tad distant.

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