Zemlinsky & Brahms Clarinet Trios at Cadogan Hall – Michael Collins, Adrian Brendel, Michael McHale

Trio in D minor for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op.3

Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op.114

Michael Collins (clarinet), Adrian Brendel (cello), Michael McHale (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 2 August, 2021
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

This Cadogan Hall Proms recital of two late-romantic clarinet trios was well worth the two-year absence, the later by Zemlinsky deferring to Brahms’s late love-affair with the artistry of the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. I do not know how often these three players, have performed together, but the results sounded as though they knew each other well.

A mere five years separates the Brahms (1891) and the Zemlinsky (1896) works, but in the latter you get hints of a romanticism more on the morbid spectrum. A recording I once heard emphasised the piano part, which had a rather inflationary effect. Michael McHale offered a more ambiguous, inward approach, which fed into the clarinet and cello roles. Indeed, not having heard any live chamber music over the past two years, I realised powerfully what I had been missing, an unexpected epiphany.

Together they broadened the more argumentative moments of the first movement, then injected the Adagio with a Schoenbergian brand of anxiety. Zemlinsky, Schoenberg’s only teacher, may have unwittingly enabled the Second Viennese love island – his sister married Schoenberg and then along came Mahler and Alma (the latter also taught by Zemlinsky). The ensemble showed off playing of great distinction, Brendel offering tactful support to Collins, then nudging things forward, while Collins’s skill at bringing the clarinet voice from the subliminal to the gloriously lyrical took your (and presumably Collins’s) breath away.

There were more grades of penetration in the Brahms, with Collins and Brendel sharing the melodic leads with beguiling conversational ease, and Collins added a colourful Johann Schrammel flamboyance to the waltz third movement. McHale raised and lowered the temperature with understated fluency, and all three players allowed us to believe that all was well with the world. For which much thanks.

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