Twilight Of The Romantics - Rabl, Labor / Orion Ensemble
This excellent program features a pair of extremely tuneful, attractive, and unknown works for clarinet, piano, and strings by two contemporaries of Brahms. Walter Rabl (1873-1940) stopped composing in the early 1900s to devote himself to teaching, and his Clarinet Quartet of 1896 reveals a youthful composer full of promise. Sure the use of sonata form in the first movement is textbook-schematic, but the tunes are first rate (the exotic minor-key second subject is really special). The second-movement Adagio similarly shows a composer with a wider range of expression than you might at first expect, and the entire piece is extremely well-written for the four players (clarinet, violin, cello, and piano). It's quite a find.
Josef Labor (1842-1924) belongs to an older generation, and his quintet (he adds a viola to the above distribution of forces) adds a touch of Spohr's chromaticism to its basically Brahmsian cast. Actually, although the notes as usual use Brahms as their point of reference, he was by no means the model that we make of him today simply because most writers aren't interested in what people actually played and heard at the time in question (the same observation applies to Wagner). Rabl recalls Dvorák as much as Brahms, and Labor, as just mentioned, doesn't sound especially Brahmsian at all, despite the fact that the finale is a set of variations, much as in Brahms' own Clarinet Quintet. The nice thing about this piece is that despite the potential for chromatic sludge, it really does contain attractive thematic material, and the concluding variations, so often disappointing when the music seems to demand a more vigorous, less sectionalized finale, are particularly appealing.
The performances by the Orion Ensemble are extremely fine. When it comes to sheer limpidity of timbre, clarinetist Kathryne Pirtle isn't quite on the level of, say, Martin Fröst, but she plays very well and blends quite beautifully with her colleagues. Balances in mixed ensembles such as this, particularly with a piano involved, always are a bit tricky, but not here. Everything falls naturally into place, and the interpretations are unfailingly lively and stylish. The engineering is drop-dead fabulous, as natural and lifelike as you will find anywhere. If you love good Romantic chamber music, then you will surely find this release to be just about as good as it gets.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: CDR 088
Composer: Josef Labor, Walter Rabl
Orchestra/Ensemble: Orion Ensemble, Orion Ensemble members
Performer: Diana Schmück, Florentina Ramniceanu, Jennifer Marlas, Judy Stone, Kathryn Pirtle