Brahms’s two sonatas for clarinet and piano, Op 120, composed in 1894, were followed only by the four Serious Songs and a set of organ chorale preludes (some of which may have been written at earlier times). His farewell to chamber music was also his farewell gift to the clarinet. The two works recorded here were preceded by the Clarinet Trio in A minor (Op 114) and the great Clarinet Quintet in B minor (Op 115), and all four masterpieces were inspired by the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, principal clarinettist of the Meiningen Orchestra.
This is Volume 1 in a new series of British Clarinet Sonatas, featuring the exclusive Chandos artist Michael Collins in works by Bax, Bliss, Howells, Ireland, and Stanford. He is accompanied by the pianist Michael McHale. Their ‘Lyrical Clarinet’ disc received much praise, among others from BBC Music which noted: ‘It’s hard to imagine this programme better played than it is here by Collins and McHale… technically impeccable.’
Among the most cherished of all chamber works, the Quintet was written after Brahms visited the ducal court of Meiningen and heard Richard Mühlfeld, whom he considered one of the greatest woodwind players he had ever heard. It is a heartfelt work, and seems to sum up Brahms's life, with a mood of resignation-without-bitterness prevailing. This is one of Brahms's finest achievements.
Johann Baptist Vanhal's clarinet sonatas are mostly notable for their historical value. Written between 1801 and 1810, they legitimized the clarinet as an equal partner in the sonata form. They did for that instrument what Beethoven did for the cello around the same time. Until the turn of the century, the clarinet had mainly appeared in ensembles with multiple other instruments, like the great quintets of Mozart and Weber.