Forgotten Romantics, Outstanding Performances

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Notwithstanding this CD’s “Forgotten Romantics” title, these three clarinet sonatas have appeared before on CD, yet it’s good to bring them together, especially with such fine and terrifically engineered performances as we have here. Not only are clarinetist Guy Yehuda and veteran pianist Ralph Votapek exceptional instrumentalists, they also play off of and react to one another as if they’ve been doing so forever (their superb CD devoted to Brahms and Reger sonatas is out of print, but available to download).

Take the Draeseke sonata’s Scherzo, for example, where Yehuda characterizes the themes by varying accents and articulations, and Votapek bounces his ricocheting chords with similarly varied shadings and points of emphasis. The extroverted finale may benefit more from the suppler symmetry that clarinetist Hideaki Aomori and pianist Joshua Pierce bring to their recording on MSR, yet Yehuda’s sophisticated inflections of phrase minimize the music’s square-cut profile.

The duo plays Stanford’s Brahmsian sonata for keeps, bringing robust character and tasteful tempo fluctuation to the opening Allegro moderato, in contrast to Michael Collins’ equally lovely yet more reticent reading on Chandos. Thematically speaking, the concluding Allegretto grazioso occasionally evokes the finale of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2. In this movement, no one quite matches Yehuda and Votapek’s refined balances and airborne lilt.

We go from fake Brahms to fake Richard Strauss in Setaccioli’s Sonata, which abounds with luxurious harmonic sleights of hand, while the opening pages remind you of Ein Heldenleben. The outer movements admittedly wander all over the place, and the piano part is akin to a relentless orchestral reduction, which, by the way, does not faze Votapek in the least! Perhaps there’s more substance in the central Notturno’s focused lyricism. In any event, Yehuda and Votapek set reference standards with incisive shaping of the outer movements that keep the music dramatically afloat. An outstanding release.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Forgotten Romantics
Reference Recording: This one

FELIX AUGUST BERNHARD DRAESEKE: Sonata in B-flat major for Clarinet & Piano Op. 38
GIACOMO SETACCIOLI: Clarinet Sonata Op. 31

  • Guy Yehuda (clarinet); Ralph Votapek (piano)

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