REVIEWS:  divine art dda 25009 Clarinet Trios - Trio Gemelli


This is a richly rewarding programme, beautifully played and recorded. Brahms's Clarinet Trio has fared somewhat disappointingly in the popularity stakes when compared with the mellifluous tunefulness of the Quintet. Whereas in the latter, Brahms indulges his lyrical instincts with a Mozartian naturalness, in the Trio one senses him trying to reign them in - any other composer who had come up with a melodic line as ravishing as that announced by the piano towards the end of the first movement's exposition (2'21" on this recording; the cello announces it in the recapitulation) would have understandably run and run with it; Brahms gives it 13 seconds!. It is not difficult to see how Webern's temporal concision was arrived at when you experience music under such awesome compression as this. A glorious work, given a glowingly affectionate and engagingly natural performance.

Beethoven's Op. 11 may not be amongst his most profound early works, but played with such irrestistible delight as this - Emily Segal throws off Beethoven's little indulgences in pianistic frivolity with infectious grace and charm - it's difficult to keep one's finger off the 'replay' button. The delightful theme and variations finale dances along uncontainably, and it's entirely due to these talented young players' credit that they never allow the general bonhomie to descend to mere archness or self-regard.

The post-Webern harmonic idiom of Hugh Wood's Op.40 Trio may prove a stumbling-block for many listeners, although gesturally speaking the work's emotional logic is deeply satisfying, its contrapuntal behaviour unmistakably Brahmsian in inspiration and its alluring sound-world utterly captivating. As Wood explains in his notes, 'the finale is a slow movement intended as a memorial to two friends who died in 1997', and here Segal and twins John and Adrian Bradbury (clarinet and cello respectively) really come into their own with a heart-rending intensity that held this listener spellbound
Julian Haylock

The 1889 edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians notes the following: “Wind instruments are now out of fashion for concert-playing, and one seldom hears anything on such occasions but the piano or violin, instead of the pleasing variety which used to prevail with so much advantage to art.” Despite the prominence of the clarinet in the orchestra of the Romantic era, its eminence in chamber music had been in a state of decline for a number of years. But during the 1890s, Brahms embarked upon a quartet of works—two sonatas, a trio, and a quintet—that would result in a new level of respect for the clarinet. His sonatas were the first chamber works for the clarinet by a major composer since Weber and Mendelssohn were inspired by the consummate artistry of Heinrich Bärmann and his gifted son Carl.

During his career, Brahms surely encountered the playing of a variety of clarinetists, since his orchestral works were premiered in a number of locales. But in July of 1891, he wrote to Clara Schumann that “the clarinetists in Vienna and many other places are fairly good in the orchestra, but, as soloists, give no one real pleasure.” His opinion would change dramatically as the result of his association with conductor Fritz Steinbach and the Meiningen Orchestra. It was there that Brahms first heard clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld and was captivated by his playing. Brahms even called the clarinetist the orchestra’s nightingale.

Unfortunately, other musicians did not share Brahms’s enthusiasm. Vaughan Williams heard Mühlfeld and his English counterpart Charles Draper, and though he admired the German’s tone, Vaughan Williams affirmed that it was Draper who found the true quality of the instrument. Lest we dismiss this as English posturing, Friedrich Buxbaum, who played the Brahms clarinet trio with Mühlfeld, stated in 1940 that in 1890s Vienna there were many clarinetists who could eclipse Mühlfeld. Nevertheless, Brahms’s inspiration was heartfelt, and the four works he produced for Mühlfeld during the autumn of his life have outlasted the debate concerning Mühlfeld’s merits or lack of them.

In the trio—as in the quintet that would follow it—Brahms opted for the darker-toned clarinet pitched in A, and grasped the opulent range of the instrument with complete assurance. He used the potential for cantilena and fluency while carefully avoiding the temptation to create a miniature concerto. The trio evinces all the restraint, resource, and subtlety of Brahms’s late style and is fueled by the distinctively different timbres of the different instruments. The musical personalities and characteristics of the instruments are expertly balanced and exploited with no apparent fetters upon Brahms’s natural expression as a pianist. The clarinet and cello seem ideally suited to the tonal reserve of the aging composer and his desire to avoid anything extreme—to wit: Brahms rarely asks for a fortissimo and he also sidesteps extreme tempos. Even though the composer was to live for another three years, quietude and moderation prevail here as if they were underscoring Brahms’s recognition of and resignation to his impending end. With its carefully planned architectonic and melodic structure, the trio also exhibits an economy of form that exhibits Brahms’s rejection of compositional indulgence.

The talents of a gifted clarinetist, specifically one Josef Bähr (1770–1819), also influenced Beethoven. With the exception of Beethoven’s three duets for clarinet and bassoon, the rondino and octet—both scored for the basic Harmonie configuration of paired oboes, clarinet, horns, and bassoons—Beethoven’s solo clarinet parts in the trio, sextet, and septet—written between 1792 and 1802—were for Bähr. He was empowered with much talent and a review of Beethoven’s sextet printed by the Allgemeine Musicalische Zeitung stated that “this artist possesses, in addition to extraordinary facility and assurance, an extremely charming and agreeable tone, and he is able, especially in the piano passages, to make it so melting, tender, and touchingly delicate . . . ”. The trio, which uses the more common clarinet in B ♭ , dates from 1798. At the request of Bähr, Beethoven used a melody from Joseph Weigl’s opera L’amor marinaro as the basis of the variations that constitute the final movement. Beethoven is reported to have later expressed regret concerning this decision, since he felt the choice lowered the overall quality of the trio. Although written for the same combination of instruments as the Brahms trio, this youthful work by Beethoven is at the other end of the spectrum.

In addition to the decades on the time line of music history that separate it stylistically from its discmate, Beethoven’s op. 11 is also the emotional antithesis of the Brahms. Beethoven’s trio is full of youthful optimism and vigor and also holds hints of the young lion that would soon begin to flex his muscles and reshape musical thinking for generations to come. Structurally, the trio is a youthful masterpiece that demonstrates an exceptional degree of intercourse at every turn. By the late 1790s, the genre had developed substantially from its beginnings earlier in the Classical era, and the young composer’s understandably confident treatment of the piano and his assured handling of the clarinet and cello display an amazing grasp of the unique lyrical and technical qualities possessed by each instrument.

The Brahms and Beethoven works are available in many excellent recordings and are both near and dear to my heart as I performed them in concert as well as at evenings of Hausmusik in the halcyon days of my youth. My matched set of Buffet clarinets was set aside over a quarter century ago in favor of the microphone, but I still maintain an active interest in recordings and repertoire for my former instrument. So much for my waxing nostalgic. I am always pleased to greet the infrequent new arrival that offers these compositions. Unlike the Brahms and Beethoven, however, the trio by Hugh Wood (b. 1932) takes its first bows here; it is the world premiere recording.

Wood’s treatment of the protagonists is diametrically different from both Brahms and Beethoven. He has graciously provided his own notes for the three-movement work, which I excerpt here: “The opening . . . concentrates on the members of the trio as solo instrumentalists. Thus there are long solos for each instrumentalist in turn . . . the melodies are prolonged and elaborated rather than developed.” Wood opted for a Scherzo-march as the second movement: “There are five ‘characters’ presented quite quickly at the beginning and they seem at first to be identified with particular instruments, but the story of the movement is that of their presentation in different forms and on other instruments.” This material is supplemented by “a sixth [and] more lyrical theme . . . [that] comes to the fore in mid-movement . . . between cello and clarinet, the cello leading.” The finale, according to Wood, is a slow movement “intended as a memorial tribute to two friends who died in 1997.”

We learn from the notes that the Trio Gemelli members (John Bradbury, clarinet; Adrian Bradbury, cello; Amy Siegel, piano) have been performing together since 1994. John and Adrian are identical twins—hence the name Trio Gemelli—and the sons of British clarinetist Colin Bradbury. The bloodline of the Bradburys aside, these are three fine young musicians who possess all of the requisite skills to master their instruments. Their musical personalities are well suited to this diverse repertoire and they evince a deep understanding and immediate command of each work. From the relatively lighthearted character of the Beethoven through the reserved and autumnal Brahms, to the technically demanding as well as emotionally consuming quality of the somewhat quirky Wood, the Trio Gemelli consistently held my attention via their wide range of fervent expression and flawless technique. The performances also radiate a sumptuous tonal quality and show meticulous attention to phrasing, carefully shaped melodic lines, and well-shaded dynamics. The overall presentation is quite exceptional in every aspect, including the sound proffered by Divine Art: it is honest, crystal clear, and well blended.

There is one regret, however, and that is not having been acquainted with these performers previously.
Michael Carter

This disc comes from a fairly new stable, where a reputation for good recordings is growing. The coupling is decidedly unusual: those in tune with Brahms and Beethoven will not be necessarily appreciative of Wood and vice versa. Both the Brahms and Beethoven works have a large number of recordings in the catalogue (over 25 for the Brahms alone) while the Wood makes its debut here as a première recording.

The Brahms and Beethoven Trios played by members of the New Vienna Octet (1981) are still regarded highly as benchmark performances. But the youthful Gemelli Trio (not to be confused with Gabrieli Quartet) has a quality of performance that should not be lightly dismissed from one's choice. Here the presence is more 'modern' than many of the previous recordings, and a marked clarity is matched by a careful balance between instruments. The playing is particularly sensitive: I like the delicately handled dynamics of the Emily Segal's piano in works like the Brahms, which can often be too intrusive. The skilful reading by the Bradburys is superb, and in fact the team work effectively to convey nuances of mood.

While the Beethoven Trio was written when the composer was at a zenith of vitality, the Brahms was written by a mature and skilled master of composition at the end of his career. In the Brahms, the dreamy Adagio is strongly engaging [tk.2] and needs to be heard in a receptive environment to fully appreciate the careful preparation for this recording. The Wood piece to me might be summed up as a work 'with roaming keys' and tends to be sterile in depicting any of my nameable emotions. The complexities of the score are ably handled by the Trio, and Adrian's cello handles difficult high notes with skill. Where a held note on the piano is picked up by the clarinet, the crossover cannot be detected, the musicianship and balance is that good.

After the weight of the Wood, the Beethoven Trio follows like a breath of fresh air. Schubert and Beethoven have something to share in the style of the delicious Allegro con brio and Allegretto [tk.10]. This piece requires deft fingerwork at the piano, which Segal handles masterfully.

The recital is given in warm acoustics, not dry and not so reverberant that staccato chords are picked up with an annoying ricocheting effect. At times one thinks that a group larger than a trio is providing the music. With stiff competition around it is difficult to say how the disc will fare. The coupling will be a decisive factor, but one wishes it well. A good set of notes is included in both English and German. Raymond Walker

Of the nine completed works of Johannes Brahms which in one way or another set out to be symphonies, this Opus 114, if orchestrated, would have formed a nice quartet of "light" symphonies with Opp. 11, 16 and 73. His decision at the age of 58 to work it up as a clarinet trio followed a period of despair during which he felt all composed out, and was partly due to his acquaintance with clarinettist Mühlfeld and partly to his stylistic transition towards neo-classicism.. The same connection also gave us the Clarinet Sonatas and the Quintet. One can hardly quarrel with that decision. The work as it stands is utterly marvellous. The third movement andantino grazioso is as much an uncanny pre-echo of the scherzi to Mahler’s Second Symphony twelve years in the future, as it is a lingering taste of Liebeslieder. This is a performance without anguish, beautifully played and recorded.

Hugh Wood was born in Ligam, Lancashire, studied with Anthony Milner, Iain Hamilton, and Mátyás Seiber, and taught for some years at Cambridge. He has been quite active as a composer with several important commissions in various forms. The Clarinet Trio veers between Schoenberg and Berg — and Seiber, but is unusually accessible and actually enjoyable for the most part.

Some of Beethoven’s early chamber music is embarrassingly derivative and some is really good, this Trio being one of the latter. The performers bring it off in grand style. A little more grit in the Brahms and I would have given this one the highest recommendation.
Paul Shoemaker

Trio Gemelli (founded by identical twins John and Adrian Bradbury) first appeared as Park Lane Group Young Artists in 1997, then at the Wigmore Hall, and then later that year at the Cheltenham Festival where it premièred Hugh Wood's Clarinet Trio. And now it provides the first recording of that work on a disc whose enterprising programming is its strongest recommendation.

The triptych of character pieces which form Wood's trio is boldly set out: the long, elaborated solo melodies of the first movement fearlessly elucidated; the scherzo-march of the 'Fantastico' centrepiece imaginatively transformed; and its memorial-like finale revealing anger and fear coiled within its grief.

The Brahms trio is the most substantial work on the disc, though you probably wouldn't want to acquire it primarily for this performance. It has neither the panache of the Florestan Trio, nor the sheer virtuoso profile of Michael Collins with Isserlis and Hough.. Rather, it's a careful, intimate performance in which the Gemelli could cherish the slow movement's melody just a little more, and project its own enthusiasm and Brahms's passion more strongly throughout. The players' meticulously thought-through performance of Beethoven's Op.11 trio springs to life in the finale's theme and variations. Performance *** Recording ****
Hilary Finch

Brahms found great inspiration in the playing of Mühlfeld, then the sensation of Europe. The Clarinet Trio in A minor, op. 114, was one of the works thus inspired. It is a gentle piece, calmly lyrical and delicately textured. This is a beautifully reflective interpretation.

Hugh Wood's finely crafted piece is a nicely chosen foil. As for Beethoven's much neglected Clarinet Trio in B flat, op. 11, it is performed with excellent appreciation of its open structure and graceful lyricism. The recording does justice to an excellent team of artists.
Geoffrey Crankshaw

The Trio Gemelli, made its debut in Madrid in 1994 and comprises John (clarinet) and Adrian (cello) Bradbury who are identical twins and Emily Segal (piano). It has given a series of successful concerts both in the UK and in continental Europe.

The Brahms Trio is a late work that shows Brahms at his rich romantic best, it is not designed as a showpiece for the clarinet as all three instruments are of equal importance, with the cello often taking the lead. The dreamy slow movement is especially fine. The three young players play with maturity and the work sounds most impressive.

Hugh Wood was born in Wigan in 1932 and has been involved in teaching music for most of his life. His compositions are mainly in the chamber music field and the Trio Gemelli premiered this trio. The work is short, with three brief movements and is uncompromisingly modern in sound. The opening movement concentrates on each musician as a solo instrumentalist, with long solos for each instrument in turn. The second movement is a scherzo march of considerable character. Unusually the finale is a slow movement intended as a tribute to two friends who died in 1997. However it comes across as a work lacking in emotion and it does not fit in well with the accompanying works.

Beethoven wrote his Opus 11 trio in 1798 and it is sometimes played in a contemporary arrangement for violin, cello and piano. Although a relatively early work, it shows Beethoven at his peak. The first movement is an allegro con brio and is of fascinating complexity. It is followed by a slow movement, played here with great feeling. The last movement is a theme and variations, the theme is a jaunty tune from an opera by J. Weighl — it reminds us that Beethoven is unsurpassed at writing variations, even based upon the most trivial of tunes (see for example the Variations for Piano Trio on Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu). The playing is exemplary and it is recorded in a warm acoustic. The disc is well presented, with good notes.
Arthur Baker