3 down, 1 to go
16 Oct 2010
Jack Fishman

This Sunday (October 17 at 3 p.m.) at Travis Park United Methodist Church, Camerata San Antonio will play the great Brahms Quintet in B minor, Opus 115 one last time. This will be the fourth opportunity to hear this piece performed live in our area in just one week. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center opened the San Antonio Chamber Music Society's season with it last Sunday and Camerata played in Kerrville on Thursday and Boerne in Friday.

I've already blogged about this masterpiece earlier this week (click here and here), but one more reminder is not over doing it. Hearing the Brahms Clarinet Quintet in a live performance should be on your "Bucket List."

It is Brahms at his best.
It is chamber music at its best.
It is concert-going at its best.
It is life at its best.

For Sunday's performance Camerata San Antonio includes Sayaka Okada & Matthew Zerweck, violins; Emily Freudigman, viola; Ken Freudigman, cello and Ilya Shterenberg, clarinet. Friday night they played the Brahms beautifully. This tour de force requires several key performance elements to go just right and Camerata hit every metric right on the button. The first is sound. The Quintet, and most late-Brahms works, require a rich, romantic sound, but not so rich as to obscure the details. Brahms played badly is usually Brahms as thick as pea soup. Brahms played badly is usually Brahms with hyper-vibrato on every note. Brahms played badly is usually Brahms played with not enough emphasis on the counterpoint. Camerata balanced richness and transparency like a fine wine balances great food.

Friday night, the Camerata's excellent sound was enhanced by the acoustics of Beorne's First United Methodist Church, the best in the area. The details were much more apparent than in the inferior acoustics of Temple Beth-El last Sunday. Travis Park United Methodist, Sunday's venue, falls somewhere in the middle of the FUMC/TB-E acoustical continuum.

illya_sm.jpgThe second key to the Brahms Quintet is ethereal clarinet playing. Here is where San Antonio was offered a rare treat. You won't hear two better clarinetists in one week anywhere than David Shifrin last Sunday and Ilya Shterenberg this Sunday. Brahms was 58 and planned to retire from composition before he wrote this Quintet. But he heard the playing of clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld and was so impressed by his sweet tone he changed his mind. And what a part he wrote for Richard! Brahms gives the clarinet his most haunting, most heart-breaking melodies. As the program notes from last night's performance quoted, this piece is, ". . . a work of retrospection, a farewell. Pictures of the past, pleasures and sorrows, longing and hope, pass before the elderly master, who expresses them once again in delicately restrained and melancholy tones." The clarinet carries most of the burden of expressing these ideas and Ilya captured them all last night.

Another key to the Brahms Quintet is getting the variations in the last movement right. Brahms is the master at variation form and the last movement of this work is a miracle. But, it is easy to make this sound disjointed. The performers have to carefully balance the tempo and temperament of each variation into one cohesive idea. Camerata paced their performance perfectly.

The final key to the Brahms Quintet is an ensemble that listens carefully and responds to each other with great sensitivity. This is an area that our local heroes clearly outdid the superstars from NYC. The CMSLC is a huge group of unbelievable artists and they play in many different configurations. While they have played with each other for years, each performance is a new ensemble. Camerata San Antonio also offers different instrumentations and musicians on its concert series, but they are more consistent in their personnel and repertoire range. And it sounds like it. Perhaps it is a case of the individual players of CMSLC trying to live up to their superstar reputations. But, when Camerata SA played the Brahms last night, you were drawn into the communication between the players. As clarinet tossed the melodic fragment to violin and then to viola, you were inside the phrase. Your concentration was enhanced to a hyper-sensitive level. When you combine great complex music, with an interpretation that reveals the details, it is like being given the key to a great mystery.

Listening to the Brahms Quintet, you can imagine yourself on your deathbed. Your entire life is flashing by and, finally, it all makes sense. As the work ends, you are at peace. That's asking a lot of a composer and five performers. But, the Brahms Clarinet Quintet delivered the pitch and Camerata hit it out of the park!

Oh, there are other good concerts this Sunday afternoon. Visit Classical Spotlight at to read about them. But, unless you have be banned for life from Travis Park United Methodist Church, that's where I'd recommend you go for a concert this Sunday.

P.S. The first half of Camerata's concert is two wonderful new works with a Latin-American influence. The contrast sets up the Brahms very effectively. It is much more interesting programming than Lincoln Center's pairing of Mozart and Mendelssohn with the Brahms.

P.P.S. You want to know how much I love the Brahms Clarinet Quintet? I gave up the YANKEE PLAYOFF GAME last night to hear it for the second time in less than a week!

Jack Fishman
For more blogs by Jack Fishman visit:
facebook logo as F.jpg San Antonio Symphony

twitter logo as T.jpg @SASym

<February 2020>

Become a David Shifrin Fan

Become a fan of David Shifrin to hear about new music, videos, event info & special offers.

David Shifrin Radio

Brahms: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op. 115
Bartók: Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, Sz 111
Bernstein: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Mozart: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major, K 581
Mozart: Serenade for Winds no 11 in E flat major, K 375
Seiber: Serenade for 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons and 2 Horns
Music for Viola and Gypsy Band
Bolcom: Afternoon Cakewalk
Brahms: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano no 1 in F minor, Op. 120 no 1
Brahms: Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A minor, Op. 114
Piazzolla: La muerte del Angel
Debussy: Première Rhapsodie for Clarinet and Piano
Poulenc: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in B-flat major, FP 184
Martinu: Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano, H 356
Hindemith: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Lutoslawski: Dance Preludes (5) for Clarinet and Piano
Debussy: Two pieces from Children's Corner arr. for clarinet and piano by David Schiff
Debussy: Première Rhapsodie for Clarinet and Piano
Mozart: Parto, ma tu ben mio from La Clemenza di Tito
Dvorak: Serenade for Winds in D minor, Op. 44
Mozart: Serenade for Winds no 10 in B flat major, K 361 (370a) "Gran Partita"
Weber: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B flat major, J 182/Op. 34
Weber: Variations (7) for Clarinet and Piano from "Silvana," J 128/Op 33
Weber: Grand Duo concertante for Clarinet and Piano in E flat major, J 204/Op. 48
Schubert: Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D 965/Op. 129 (The Shepherd on the Rock)
Dvorak: Serenade for Winds in D minor, Op. 44
Strauss: Duet-Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon, Strings and Harp, AV 147
Piazzolla: Oblivion
Rogerson: Constellations
Bunch: Ralph's Old Records for Flute, Clarinet, Viola, Cello, and PIano
Schickele: Serenade for Three
Schickele: Clarinet Quintet "Spring Ahead"
Shulman: Rendezvous
Etler: Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Ensemble
Mozart: Serenade for Winds in E-flat Major, K. 375
Beethoven: Quintet for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon and Horn in E flat major, Op. 16
Bruch: Eight Pieces for viola, clarinet, and piano, Op. 83
Davidovsky: Septet for Piano, Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello and Bass
Beethoven: Septet in E flat major, Op. 20
Jalbert: Street Antiphons
Brahms: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op. 115
Mozart: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major, K 581
Stravinsky: L'histoire du soldat