Two masterpieces of Brahms’ late style, the Clarinet Quintet and the Trio for Clarinet, Piano and Cello were written in 1891 for the principal clarinetist of the Meiningen Orchestra, Richard Mühlfeld. For this recording, Fröst has separated the two with his own transcriptions of six of Brahms’ songs, including the beautiful Wie Melodien zieht es mir, which the composer revisited in his A Major Violin Sonata.
The quintet and trio are major works by any standard, and Mühlfeld’s playing must have been extraordinary to have forced the middle-aged Brahms out of retirement with such spectacular results. But if you’re looking for the heart of Fröst’s approach to Brahms you’ll find its most unequivocal expression in the song transcriptions. Try Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer, where Fröst evokes a somnolent melancholy through a floating, vibrato-caressed tone, against Roland Pöntinen’s sensitive accompaniment.
So – listen to the song transcriptions first. They’ll set you up nicely as fine an account of the B Minor quintet as you’ll hear anywhere. Joined by musicians of the calibre of Janine Jansen and Maxim Rysanov, Fröst infuses Brahms’ autumnal lyricism with a gentle urgency while responding to his partners’ impassioned yet poised playing with a touching sense of warmth and companionship. Ditto the A Minor Trio, whose formal compactness and wider timbral range urge Fröst, Pöntinen and cellist Torleif Thedéen on to an even greater expressive intensity.
Comparisons in the quintet are legion, and among my favourites are Reginald Kell and the Busch Quartet from 1948, Michael Collins with the Nash Ensemble and Sabine Meyer with the Alban Berg Quartet. But as far as I’m concerned, this newcomer goes straight to number one.