Straesser: Chamber music - Berolina Ensemble
MDG Scene 948 2199-6
Classical - Chamber
Straesser: Clarinet quintet, Clarinet sonata, Wind quintet
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Review by Graham Williams - August 21, 2021
Inspired by the recordings and aims of the distinguished British group the Melos Ensemble, the clarinettist Friederike Roth and the violinist David Gorol founded the Berolina Ensemble in 2009 with the aim of performing unknown masterpieces by unjustly forgotten composers who, due to a wide variety with circumstances, were denied subsequent fame. One such composer is Ewald Straesser (1867-1933) whose name will be as unfamiliar to many collectors as it was to me.
Straesser was born in a small town between Cologne and Wuppertal in 1867 and his composing style followed the classical path from Schumann and Mendelssohn to Brahms; the latter clearly being his role model. It is astonishing to think that a talent whose orchestral compositions were performed, during his lifetime, by such eminent conductors as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Willem Mengelberg, Arthur Nikisch and Hans Pfitzner has, thanks to the vagaries of public taste, sadly joined the list of many forgotten Late-Romantic composers.
On this expertly recorded 5.1 multi-channel SACD from MDG, the accomplished musicians of the Berolina Ensemble deliver captivating accounts of three of Ewald Straesser’s impressive chamber compositions, performed here with considerable panache and joie de vivre.
The Clarinet Quintet Op.34 from 1915 is a substantial and beautifully crafted work work clearly showing the influence of Brahms’s celebrated quintet in the first movement with, at times, a similar autumnal mood. The energetic scherzo that follows leads to a wonderfully lyrical and deeply felt slow movement. The finale marked ‘Alla breve, grazioso e con anime’ opens with a lively dialogue between the clarinet and violin and then alternates between vigorous and more relaxed interludes.
For this listener it provided thirty four minutes of unalloyed enjoyment.
The four-movement Sonata for Clarinet and piano Op.58 was written in 1932, the year before the composer’s death and, though the liner notes suggest that there is a clear renunciation of the “Brahmsian path” few will notice any trace of modernism in this richly melodic and cheerfully fluent composition. One could not imagine it receiving a more engaging performance than that given here by the superb clarinettist Friederike Roth and pianist Viller Valbonesi who allow us to marvel at Straesser’s abundant invention.
The Berolina’s instrumentally varied programme on this disc is completed with Straesser’s Wind Quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn) Op. 9b. Composed in 1903, it is a beguiling piece with writing that fully exploits the distinctive qualities of the five instruments. The composer’s mellifluous writing constantly tickles the ear with a stream of gorgeous melodies reminiscent at times of Richard Strauss’s late wind works.
The recordings were made in the Konzerthaus der Abtei, Marienmünster, a venue much favoured by MDG for its fine acoustic, and they capture both the timbre of the instruments and their spatial placement with commendable veracity.
In passing, one notices that no less than four of the movements in these compositions include the marking ‘grazioso’ = graceful, smooth, or elegant in style; an apt pointer to what we hear on this disc. In these troubled times such music provides much needed balm to the soul, and I recommend this recording unreservedly.
Copyright © 2021 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net