REVIEW: Brahms: Clarinet Trio in A minor op.34 (viola version), Two Songs op.91, Viola Sonatas in F minor op.120 no.1 & in E flat major op.120 no.2



The Strad issue



Thomas Riebl (viola) Gustav Rivinius (cello) Michelle Breedt (contralto) Silke Avenhaus (piano)



We are in danger of hearing Brahms’s Clarinet Trio more often on viola than on the wind instrument, but if all contenders are as good as this one, I shall not complain. With Thomas Riebl focusing his tone well, the players take a firm grip on the first movement and the instruments are well distinguished by the recording.

Silke Avenhaus is a positive pianist throughout this programme, reminding me of our own Kathron Sturrock in the way she propels everything without hustling any of the themes. The Adagio is kept moving; at the start of the third movement Riebl provides a real cutting edge but it is all grazioso as marked; and the finale is well projected.

South African contralto Michelle Breedt is impressive in the songs, if not quite up to the best exponents; and one or two minute hiccups in Riebl’s tone suggest the performers have gone for spontaneity rather than perfection – a fair trade-off.
There is surge and thunder in the first movement of the F minor Sonata – Riebl seems to be using his own edition of both sonatas. He produces fine tone throughout the range. He and Avenhaus make the slow movement flow, get a nice lilt into the Scherzo and plunge into an impetuous finale.

A yielding, insinuating start to the E flat major Sonata promises well. Both players are heroic in the central movement, Avenhaus changing tempo convincingly; and after a nice, easy start the variations are well done, finishing with a flourish. Excellent presentation and recordings.