Some instrumentalists seek to create a niche for themselves as recording artists by offering out-of-the-way repertoire. Not Australian clarinetist Paul Dean, however; Dean follows his successful Mozart SACD (Fanfare 33:4) with this CD of the three core 19th century works for clarinet and piano, with arrangements of three of Brahms’s op. 57 songs as lagniappe. Dean, the former principal clarinetist with the Queensland Symphony, is an outstanding musician with a bright, even sound and complete technical control. His readings of the Brahms F-Minor Sonata and the Schumann Fantasiestücke (Fantasy Pieces) are thoroughly mainstream. The first Schumann piece is particularly effective in Dean’s lovely, contemplative performance; the second piece intimate, the last buoyant.
The Brahms E♭-Major Sonata performance is more individual. This is a highly dynamic reading; the first movement here is particularly flexible in tempo, making for a performance of great contrasts. The overall relaxed pace, however, emphasizes the music’s autumnal quality. The Sostenuto middle section of the second movement (Allegro appassionato) is taken much slower than the main tempo, a decision with which I disagree but one that is consistent with Dean’s overall conception. In the finale, the gradual, built-in speeding-up of the variations is undercut by the large, unwritten ritardandos at the end of each variation. The coda takes a while to build up steam, but the ending is ebullient.
Despite the unusual conception of the E♭-Major Sonata, or perhaps for some because of it, this is a first-rate program. Pianist Emmerson does a fine job with the difficult piano parts, and Melba provides ideal sound. If Dean’s Brahms is not quite as probing as Jon Manasse’s, or as subtly expressive as David Shifrin’s, it is still superb clarinet playing and very fine music-making. Recommended. Richard A. Kaplan