Hyperion Records

Trio for piano, clarinet and cello in A minor, Op 114
composer
Summer 1891; first performed by Richard Mühlfeld, Robert Haussmann and Brahms in Meiningen on 24 November 1891; also for piano, viola and cello

Recordings
'Brahms: The Complete Piano Trios, Clarinet Trio & Horn Trio' (CDD22082)
Brahms: The Complete Piano Trios, Clarinet Trio & Horn Trio
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99 CDD22082  2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) October 2014 Release  
'Brahms: Clarinet Quintet & Clarinet Trio' (CDA66107)
Brahms: Clarinet Quintet & Clarinet Trio
'Brahms: The Complete Chamber Music' (CDS44331/42)
Brahms: The Complete Chamber Music
MP3 £35.00FLAC £35.00ALAC £35.00Buy by post £40.00 CDS44331/42  12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
Details
Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Adagio
Movement 3: Andantino grazioso
Movement 4: Allegro

Trio for piano, clarinet and cello in A minor, Op 114
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In the same productive summer that saw the composition of the C minor Piano Trio, Brahms began work on a Violin Sonata in D minor. He did not complete it, however, until 1888; and two years after that came a further chamber work which he intended should be his last—the String Quintet in G major, Op 111. Brahms had decided by this time that his life’s work was complete, and resolved to lay his pen aside; but he had reckoned without the inspiration that his meeting the following year with the Meiningen clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld would have on his creative imagination. Brahms was immediately attracted by the delicate sensitivity of Mühlfeld’s playing and apparently spent hours on end listening to him practise. In the summer of 1891 Brahms composed, in rapid succession, the Trio in A minor, Op 114, and the Clarinet Quintet in B minor, and the two works were premiered by Mühlfeld at a concert in December of that year. Two further pieces for Mühlfeld followed in 1894—the Op 120 Clarinet Sonatas which were Brahms’s final chamber works.

The inspiration behind the Op 114 Trio may have been the clarinet, but all three instruments are wonderfully integrated throughout—indeed, if anything, it is the cello that is frequently allotted the leading role. In the outer movements both main themes are initially given to the stringed instrument, and at the beginning of the work the cello is actually heard on its own, with a rising theme whose shape is perfectly complemented by the predominantly falling intervals of the second subject, in the major. This second theme, together with its accompaniment on the piano, is permeated by those chains of descending thirds which provide such a potent symbol of resignation in Brahms’s late music: one has only to think of the opening bars of the Fourth Symphony, or of the third of the Four Serious Songs.

Between the two main subjects of this opening movement, the music reaches its first climax, approached by a brief series of rapid scales on the clarinet and cello; and it is these scales, sounding at first like the rushing wind, that are to stamp their mark on so much of the central development. At the end of the development the scales intensify to form a further climax, which, in a splendid inspiration, coincides with the start of the recapitulation. (The overlap is achieved by omitting the principal subject’s initial bars altogether.) The scales make a distant return in the movement’s coda, sweeping the music to a ghostly close.

The slow movement shares its aura of autumnal serenity with that of the Clarinet Quintet, and since it does without any equivalent to the Quintet’s more agitated, gypsy-style episode, its atmosphere of profound tranquillity is more complete. The main theme, with its gently falling thirds, is clearly an offshoot of the opening movement’s second subject. Eventually, the long-spun melody gives way to a contrasting theme of utter peacefulness, initiated by the piano over a murmuring clarinet accompaniment, which returns in a more ornate form in the latter half of what is otherwise a piece that gives the impression of a continuous, meditative improvisation.

The third movement is a Brahmsian intermezzo par excellence—a waltz of infinite gracefulness, whose easy-going atmosphere of charm is scarcely ruffled by a slightly more athletic trio section. As if all this were in danger of becoming too much of a good thing, Brahms abbreviates the reprise of the opening material, and then adds a quiet coda in a slower tempo as though to recall the calm conclusion of the opening movement.

In view, no doubt, of the intimate character of so much that has preceded it, the finale is a muscular piece with more than a tinge of the gypsy style which had fascinated Brahms so much throughout his life. Nevertheless, falling thirds are everywhere in evidence—not only in the rondo theme itself, but also in a passage following its varied return, where Brahms has them descending in a continuous chain through a span of two octaves—first in the cello, then the clarinet. This time, however, there is no question of a subdued close. Instead, the music gathers force and brings the work to an end of altogether symphonic weight.

from notes by Misha Donat © 1998

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67584 track 5
Allegro
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-07-58405
Duration
7'50
Recording date
30 May 2006
Recording venue
Wathen Hall, St Paul's School, Barnes, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Brahms: Viola Sonatas (CDA67584)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: March 2007
  2. Brahms: The Complete Chamber Music (CDS44331/42)
    Disc 12 Track 5
    Release date: October 2008
    12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
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