The standard view of Brahms’s clarinet quintet is that it’s a late “autumnal” work with all passion spent. The programme notes referred to the slow movement’s “resigned melancholy” and “twilit serenity”.
But those elements in the adagio are overwhelmed by a musical outburst where Brahms’s clarinet rages and yearns. It resembles the soprano’s mad scene in a bel canto opera with the clarinet cast as a coloratura diva.
Matthew Hunt’s clarinet soared, carolled and pleaded using the instrument’s full range from warm chalumeau to piercing top note. His unwillingness to underplay the inherent drama made the tranquil passages more telling.
The Pavel Haas Quartet was similarly uninhibited and daring.
Shostakovich’s first quartet is short, light and exuberant and Pavel Nikl’s song-like viola in the second movement was especially pleasing.