Brahms: Cello Sonatas – No 1 in E minor, Op 38; No 2 in F major, Op 99; Trio in A minor for clarinet, cello and piano, Op 114

Reviewed on Tue 16 Sep, 2014

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this recording; it’s just that the performances of all three works are trumped by alternatives already available. In the two cello sonatas, particularly the First, Paul Watkins sounds somewhat lacking in character – his tone is on the thin side for one thing, and this could be an issue of the recording balance between the instruments. Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax (RCA) capture more of the surging passion in the First Sonata, but with a mellow richness of tone. Watkins and Brown are more successful in the Second Sonata thanks to good tempo choices, but Rostropovich and Serkin (DG) bring still greater emotional intensity. The 1891 Clarinet Trio is more usually paired with the two clarinet sonatas or Clarinet Quintet, but here makes for a welcome interlude between the cello sonatas. Michael Collins brings a freshness of approach and focussed tone that is most suited to this jewel from Brahms’s Indian summer. Indeed, the recording reminds me of the élan captured by The Nash Ensemble (Onyx); on that disc Watkins and Brown partner clarinettist Richard Hosford, so the resemblance of approach is unsurprising. For greater individuality in this wonderful trio, though, try Fröst, Pöntinen and Thedéen in SACD sound (BIS, reviewed by Rob Cowan on 1 Aug 2014) – spellbinding playing indeed.
–Evan Dickerson