A fitting opening to the concert was Carl Baermann’s Duo Concertante opus 33 for 2 clarinets and piano by German clarinetist and composer Carl Baermann (1810-1885). The son of Heinrich Baermann, for whom Weber composed his clarinet works, Carl Baermann’s influence on clarinet-playing was very great through his pedagogical writings, editorial contributions, compositions and the Baermann-Ottensteiner key system for the clarinet. The modern German clarinet is a direct descendant of Baermann’s clarinet model. The Duo Concertante, known to have been performed in Paris by Heinrich and Carl Baermann, is a classic example of clarinet virtuosity in Romantic colors, spiced with some Slavonic influence. The Gurfinkel twins brought out this concert piece’s different moods – its intensity, lilting lyricism and wit – in a myriad of coloristic possibilities. Julia Gurvich gave interest and presence to the piano part.
An interesting item on the program was the first movement of Johannes Brahms’ (1883-1897) Sonata in f minor opus 120 as arranged for two clarinets by the legendary Belgian clarinetist Gustave Langenus. Composed in 1894, this and the E flat Clarinet Sonata were the composer’s last chamber works and remain among the masterpieces for the Romantic clarinet. Taut and concentrated, the f minor sonata exploits the clarinet’s wide expressive range and such technical demands as the ability to rapidly change register. With the lower instrument representing much of the piano bass in Langenus’ arrangement, one heard more intense, muscular voice play than chords, with Brahms’ lush harmonies less present to cushion the texture. With impressive instrumental mastery and natural and instinctive responsiveness, the Gurfinkel brothers, however, presented the drama of the piece, its temperament and its Brahmsian underlying nostalgia.
It was due to German clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld’s brilliant playing that Brahms composed his Trio in a minor opus 114 for piano, clarinet and ‘cello. The composer wrote to Clara Schumann “You have never heard such a clarinet player as…Mühlfeld. He is absolutely the best I know. At all events, this art has, for various reasons, deteriorated very much. The clarinet players in Vienna and many other places are fairly good in orchestra, but in solo they give one no real pleasure”. The arrangement we heard of this piece was by Arkady Gurfinkel, Daniel and Alexander’s grandfather, who was present at the Ein Kerem concert. In this intimate work, the artists created its autumnal mood with wonderful byplay between the clarinets, presenting Brahms’ emotional palette. With full-blown expression and fragile moments, the artists evoked the pensive tranquility of the Andante Grazioso second movement, the hearty waltz and Ländler of the third movement and the spirited, virtuosic gypsy music of the final movement, with its feisty cross rhythms. The Gurfinkel brothers colored the two late Brahms works on this program with warm, mellifluous lower register hues so suitable to this music of affection, yearning and introspection, contrasted by bright, legato cantabile playing in upper registers.
We then heard four of Max Bruch’s (1838-1920) “Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano” opus 83 arranged by Arkady Gurfinkel for two clarinets and piano. Bearing no programmatic titles, these mood pieces composed when Bruch was 70, were written for his son, Max Felix, a renowned clarinetist. (The arpeggio style in the piano part of numbers 5 and 6 suggests that Bruch had also intended to include harp, but the plan was never realized). The pieces, not intended to be performed as a group, bristle with folk-type melodies and harmonic color. Rich in mellow instrumental tonings, they are all in minor keys, barring no.7. The arrangement for two clarinets works well due to the fact that Bruch treats the two melodic instruments on an equal footing; Gurvich met the technical challenges of the piano part with richly colored gestures. The artists opened with a superbly lush and “conversational” rendering of no.1 (E flat major), followed by no.4, a Scherzo presented in sweeping, singing and well-shaped phrases. In the traditional Rumanian melody of no.6, lyrical and haunting moments were displayed with fine dynamic control. In no.7 in c minor (considered by the composer to be the most important of the miniatures) the poignantly cantabile low clarinet melody was set off by other gestures bristling with energy and gregarious temperament.
The recital concluded with another arrangement by Arkady Gurfinkel, that of the Scherzo movement of the 1945 Piano Trio by Russian neo-Romantic composer Georgy Sviridov (1815-1998), a composer of mostly choral music, whose music is not frequently heard outside of Russia. With much virtuosity, intensity and up-front energy, the artists gave expression to the work’s singing qualities, its energy and its wit. Echoes of Shostakovich, Sviridov’s teacher, pervaded the vigorous piece.
Julia Gurvich and Duo Gurfinkel presented the listening public with a thought-provoking program of works rarely performed and with familiar works in a new setting, throwing new light on the arranging of works, a practice common in Renaissance- and Baroque music. The three artists collaborated in performance of the highest standard, pleasing and entertaining the audience.