Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Leopold Wlach Plays Brahms

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

For our second Tuesday Blog for January, I have another Once Upon the Internet post for your enjoyment, this time a downloaded from the Japanese site Public Domain Classic a few years back.

In a pastPTB post, I discussed how in 1890 Johannes Brahms vowed to retire from composing, and how this plan turned out to be short lived. 

In January 1891 he made a trip to Meiningen for an arts festival and was captivated by performances of the Weber Clarinet Concerto No. 1 and the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. The solo clarinetist was Richard Mühlfeld, and Brahms began a fond friendship with the man whose playing he so admired. The beautiful tone of the instrument inspired him to begin composing again less than a year after he retired. The fruits of their friendship were four remarkable additions to the still modest clarinet repertoire of that time.

This week, I will be featuring all four of these works – indeed, in my Friday Podcast I have programmed the clarinet quintet, and in this post, I have lined up the two clarinet sonatas and the clarinet trio, all three works featuring the late great Austrian clarinetist Leopold Wlach (1902-1955), whose primary claim was a long-standing seat in the venerable Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

In the summer of 1894 at his Bad Ischl retreat, Brahms completed the sonatas that form his op. 120 (and the last chamber pieces Brahms wrote before his death). These are considered two of the great masterpieces in the clarinet repertoire. Brahms’ experience in writing his Clarinet Quintet three years earlier led him to compose the sonatas for clarinet and piano because he preferred the sound of that combination over that of clarinet with strings. The form of the clarinet sonata was largely undeveloped until after the completion of these sonatas, after which the combination of clarinet and piano was more readily used in composers’ new works.

In this 1953 mono recording, Mr. Wlach is partnered with Austrian pianist and regular on our Blog, Jörg Demus.

When we think of the “classical” piano trio, we think piano, violin and cello. However, Brahms’ op. 114 trio is written for a less travelled combination: clarinet, piano, and cello, and is one of the very few in that genre to have entered the standard repertoire. In spite of this unusual instrumentation, music historians and scholars don’t view this trio as a highlight of Brahms’ chamber repertoire.

The overall mood of the piece is somber but includes both romantic and introspective qualities. It also incorporates a considerable amount of arpeggio patterns in its theme, complimented by conversation like passages in the upper register of the cello. The first performance of the trio (December 12th, 1891) featured Mühlfeld with Robert Hausmann on cello and Brahms himself on piano. In the featured 1952 mono recording, Wlach is partnered with cellist Franz Kvarda and pianist Franz Holetschek.

Happy Listening!

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Clarinet Sonata in F Minor, op. 120, no. 1
Clarinet Sonata in E-Flat Major, op. 120, no. 2
Leopold Wlach, clarinet
Jörg Demus, piano
(Originally released as Westminster ‎– W-9023)

Clarinet Trio in A Minor, op. 114
Leopold Wlach, clarinet
Franz Kvarda, cello
Franz Holetschek, piano
(Originally released as Side B of Westminster ‎– W-9017)

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