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.