Kahn & d'Indy Trios for Piano Clarinet & Cello cpo

Robert Kahn (1865-1951)
Clarinet Trio, op. 45 in G minor (1905)
Vincent d’Indy (1851-1931)
Clarinet Trio, op. 29 (1887)
Bawandi Trio
rec. 2022, Konzertsaal der Siemensvilla, Berlin
cpo 555596-2 [57]

Requesting this CD was something of an experiment. Anyone who has read more than a couple of my reviews has very likely encountered a comment about violin timbre, and what we have here is my favourite genre – the piano trio – with the violin swapped out for the clarinet, an instrument much less likely to become harsh and wiry under pressure. 

Robert Kahn was a protégée of Brahms, and thus his composition of a clarinet trio is not especially surprising. Indeed, it was Richard Mühlfeld, for whom Brahms wrote his clarinet chamber works, who premiered the work (along with Kahn and cellist Robert Hausmann). I commented in a review of Kahn’s chamber music for piano and strings earlier this year that he had a gift for melody, and that is in evidence here as well. The swirling elegiac theme in the slow movement, to pick just one example, is quite lovely. The opening Allegro is the weak link in the work, and I urge you to be patient, for the other two are very good, the closing Presto alternately brooding and sparkling.

I very much enjoy the orchestral music of Vincent d’Indy, and while I had made the acquaintance of some of his chamber music, the Clarinet Trio was new to me. Set in four movements, it is less traditional than the Kahn, despite being written eighteen years earlier. At over thirty-five minutes, it is a substantial work, the Ouverture running to more than fourteen. It is a measure of d’Indy’s compositional qualities that the time passes very quickly. The second (Divertissement) and fourth (Final) movements are witty and elegant and very French. In between, there is an hypnotic slow movement (Chant Elégiaque).

The notes are typical of the label: informative, but inclined to hyperbole at times. They are rather more abbreviated than usual, however: commentary on the composers and works runs to a little more than a page, whereas photos of the performers occupy five. The sound quality is fine, and the relatively limited comparative listening I did (a Decca anthology with clarinettist Daniel Ottensamer) suggests the Bawandi’s performances are very good; they are somewhat slower than the Decca versions, but not to their detriment. The notes remained silent on the source of the name of the trio, which suggested something African to me, but the three players are European and, by their photos, Caucasian.

So what of my experiment? I enjoyed both works, especially the d’Indy, but I don’t think that my hypothesis really panned out. At times, particularly in the Kahn, the very different colouring of the clarinet occasionally made it stand out too much from the other instruments, leading to less of a conversation and more of a solo with accompaniment. 

If you are an aficionado of this grouping of instruments, then I’m sure you will thoroughly enjoy this CD. 

David Barker

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