BRAHMS: Clarinet Trio, Op. 114 / Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115 (Csaba Onczay/ Danubius Quartet/ Ibolya Toth/ Jeno Jando/ Jozsef Balogh) (Naxos: 8.550391)
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Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Trio in A minor for clarinet, cello and piano, Op. 114
Quintet in B minor for clarinet and strings, Op. 115
Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gangeviertel district ofHamburg, the son of a double-bass player and his wife, a seamstress seventeenyears her husband's senior. It was intended that the boy should follow hisfather's trade and to this end he was taught the violin and cello, but hisinterest in the piano prevailed, enabling him to supplement the family income byplaying in dockside taverns, while taking valuable lessons from Eduard Marxsen.
In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist EduardRemenyi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect,and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whoseagency he met the Schumanns, established now in D??sseldorf. The connection wasan important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the compositions of his ownBrahms played to him to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven.
Schumann's subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity broughtBrahms back to D??sseldorf to help Clara Schumann and her young family. Therelationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of thetime, lasted until her death in 1896.
It was not until 1862, after a happy period that had brought him a temporaryposition at the court of Detmold as a conductor and piano teacher, that Brahmsvisited Vienna, giving concerts there and meeting the important critic EduardHanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion, pitting Brahms against Wagner andLiszt as a composer of abstract music, as opposed to the music-drama of Wagnerand the symphonic poems of Liszt, with their extra-musical associations. Brahmsfinally took up permanent residence in Vienna in 1869, greeted by many as thereal successor to Beethoven, particularly after his first symphony, and winninga similar position in popular esteem and similar tolerance for his notoriouslack of tact. He died in 1897.
There is a singular beauty in the music Brahms wrote towards the end of hislife, compositions of an autumnal melancholy to which the clarinet isparticularly well suited. The two clarinet sonatas, clarinet trio and clarinetquintet were all written in the 1890s, directly inspired by the playing ofRichard M??hlfeld. In March 1891 Brahms visited Meiningen, where he wasparticularly impressed by the playing of the principal clarinettist of the courtorchestra. M??hlfeld was a musician of some distinction. Trained as a violinist,he had served in that capacity at Meiningen, before turning to the clarinet. Atthe same time he was principal clarinettist at Bayreuth and in 1890 had beengiven the additional appointment of music director of the court theatre. Duringthe summer, spent now habitually at the resort of Bad Ischl, Brahms wrote forM??hlfeld the clarinet trio and clarinet quintet. The trio was first performedin December 1891 with Brahms and Robert Hausmann, cellist in the JoachimQuartet, which joined M??hlfeld on the same occasion for the first performanceof the quintet. The two sonatas were written in 1894.
The cello opens the Clarinet Trio, followed by the clarinet and piano, in anintroductory passage that sets the mood of the movement. The cello alsoannounces the E minor second subject and this thematic material is magicallydeveloped in the central section of the movement. The D major Adagio, intense inits concentration of musical material, is followed by a third movement A majorAndantino grazioso, that reminds the listener yet again of a friend of Brahms,the musicologist Eusebius Mandyczewski, that the cello and clarinet sounded inthis work as if they were in love. The Trio ends with an energetic Finale insonata form that demonstrates yet again the ability of Brahms to conceal by hisown artistry the technical contrapuntal means used in passing to achieve theresults he desired.
The Clarinet Quintet opens with a dark-hued sonata form movement,thematically introduced by the first violin, followed by the clarinet, which inits turn introduces the second subject together with the second violin, whilethe other instruments provide a contrapuntal accompaniment. The clarinetannounces the B major principal melody of the Adagio, imitated by the firstviolin. A slower passage, in B minor, much embellished, leads through a passageof enharmonic change to the return of the first theme. The third movement openswith a theme marked Andantino played by the clarinet, followed by the firstviolin. The Presto that follows develops this first theme, which returns as themovement draws to a close. The last movement is in the form of a theme followedby five variations with implications of the first three movements as the workcomes full circle.
Jozsef Balogh was born in Pecs in 1956, studying first in his native cityand then at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. In 1974 he was a prize-winner at thePrague Concertino Festival and joined the orchestra of the Hungarian State Operain 1976, also serving as principal clarinet in the Hungarian Radio Orchestra.
Since. 1988 he has been on the teaching staff of the Budapest Academy. In 1989he was awarded a scholarship to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by Sir GeorgSolti. He has won various awards, including first prize at the GrazInternational Competition in 1988, when he performed with his frequentcolleagues of the Danubius Quartet.
Jeno Jando was born in Pecs, in south Hungary, in 1952. He started to learnthe piano when he was seven and later studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academy ofMusic under Katalin Nemes and Pal Kadosa, becoming assistant to the latter onhis graduation in 1974. Jando has won a number of piano competitions in Hungaryand abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concours and afirst prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney International PianoCompetition in 1977. In addition to his many appearances in Hungary, he hasplayed widely abroad in Eastern and Western Europe, in Canada and in Japan. Hehas recorded all Mozart's piano concertos and sonatas for Naxos. Otherrecordings for the Naxos label include the concertos of Grieg and Schumann aswell as Rachmaninov's Second concerto and Paganini Rhapsody and the completepiano sonatas of Beethoven.
The Hungarian cellist Csaba Onczay, awarded the Liszt Prize and winner of the1973 Pablo Casals Competition in Budapest, followed by first prize in the Rio deJaneiro Villa Lobos International Competition in 1976, was born in Budapest in1946. A professor at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest, he was trained as apupil of Antal Friss at the Budapest Academy, where he won the Grand Prize onhis graduation in 1970. He went on to distinguish himself in Andre Navarra'smaster-class at Siena and continued his studies at the Tchaikovsky Conservatoryin Moscow. Csaba Onczay has enjoyed a busy career at home and abroad, throughoutEurope and in the United States of America. He has recorded for the Austrian andthe French radio, as well as for Hilversum, RIAS and RAI, while his performancesof the cello concertos of Lalo, Schumann and Lendvay have been released on theHungaroton label. Csaba Onczay plays a cello by Matteo Gofriller bought for himby the Hungarian Government.
The Danubius Quartet has won considerable acclaim since its establishment in1983. With the violinists Adel Mikl6s and Maria Zs. Szab6, violist CeciliaBodolai and cellist Ilona Ribli, and the artistic direction of the distinguishedviolinist Vilmos Tatrai, th