Lorenzo Coppola / Andreas Staier

Johannes Brahms: Sonatas for Clarinet & Piano

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Historically oriented performance does not carry the same level of distinctiveness with Brahms as it does with Vivaldi or Mozart, but clarinetist Lorenzo Coppola and pianist Andreas Staier accomplish something new in the field on this recording of late Brahms works. Staier plays an 1875 Steinway, an instrument Brahms is known to have favored, and Coppola a boxwood clarinet copied from one used by Richard Mühlfeld, the clarinetist who premiered the sonatas and coaxed Brahms from his brief retirement. Their performances do not break any new ground interpretively, but they bring the two sonatas down to true chamber dimensions. This is good, for despite their meditative exterior these are deeply complex works in which the smallest instrumental gestures may have structural significance; in late Brahms, you can really see why the serialists idolized Brahms when one might have expected them to go for Wagner or Strauss. Coppola's clarinet does not have the agile silkiness of a modern instrument, but once the ear is retuned you will find his playing quite absorbing. For those expecting unusual sounds from Staier based on his Mozart recordings, nothing of the sort happens; he delivers quiet performances of the Six Klavierstücke, Op. 118, that match the pieces' inward character. The sound from Harmonia Mundi's engineers, captured at Berlin's Teldex Studios, is unusually well-attuned to the performances' aims.

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