The Strad Issue: January 2013
Description: Beautifully polished performances of two Brahms masterpieces
Musicians: Jerusalem Quartet, Sharon Kam (clarinet)
Composer: Brahms

Thankfully we have passed beyond the era when clarinettists thought of the Brahms Quintet as a quasi-concerto, though few have gone quite so far in the opposite direction as Sharon Kam, whose playing for much of the time melts into the string textures. The result is by far the most intrinsically beautiful performance of the work that I have ever encountered. Everything ebbs and flows with a natural pulse, the first movement’s development could hardly be gentler and if the Adagio may possibly be a tad too slow, it leads neatly into the players’ unhurried Andantino and a reflective view of the finale.

A defining characteristic of the performance is its refined dialogue, and the balance within the Jerusalem Quartet is also exemplary as the players capture every dynamic nuance. That is equally true of the foursome’s view of the A minor Quartet, where the outer movement’s mood changes are boldly stated and contrast with an unusually wistful approach to the slow movement. For many the Alban Berg Quartet’s recording (EMI) is irreplaceable, but this would now be my first choice.

Throughout the disc, the playing has an effortless fluency and polish, and the warm quality of the recorded sound adds to the beauty of the quartet’s tone.

Clip: Brahms Clarinet Quintet in B minor op.115, first movement (Allegro)