Over the years, clarinettist Maximilian Martìn - Maxi to his friends – has become a favourite of Nairn audiences, and his Music Nairn concert with his Trio was eagerly anticipated. They opened with the Trio op120 by Fauré, a work composed in the last year of the composer's life. Suffering from increasing deafness, Fauré composed visionary chamber music, beguilingly transcendental in style. At one point considering a Clarinet Trio, he eventually settled upon the more conventional Piano Trio form, although a recent reworking of the piece for clarinet, cello and piano adds valuably to the Clarinet Trio repertoire. If the opening Allegro and the exquisite Andantino recall the luminescent world of late Monet, the primary colours and abstract shapes of the Finale seem to anticipate Henri Matisse's late work with paper cut-outs. The performance was wonderfully evocative, with the warm clarinet tone blending and then contrasting with the cello and piano's plangent contributions. This was ensemble playing at its very best.
As cellist Philip Higham pointed out in his introduction, Zemlinsky is hardly a household name nowadays. While living and working in the cultural maelstrom of fin de siècle Vienna must have been thrilling, the composer Alexander von Zemlinsky suffered subsequent neglect by comparison with his Viennese contemporaries. His op3 Clarinet Trio instantly demonstrates how unjustified this neglect is. Drawing heavily on his hero Brahms, Zemlinsky adds lyrical elements of Dvoràk and flamboyant flavours of Richard Strauss to create an idiom, which is simultaneously engaging and impressive. As the performers and the capacity audience revelled in Zemlinsky's swirling textures, I found myself smiling at these musical influences, even spotting some Mahler in the mix. This is perhaps hardly surprising as Zemlinksy was one of many contemporaries who had a dalliance with femme fatale and composer Alma Schindler, who went on to marry Mahler – amongst others! Something of the romantic whirl of this social circle finds expression in Zemlinsky's torrid music, and the Trio gave us a charged performance, energetic, passionate and musically stunning.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the second half of the concert, featuring Beethoven's op38 Clarinet Trio seemed tame fare by comparison. While Beethoven wrote an actual Clarinet Trio op 11, the present piece is the composer's own arrangement of his hugely successful Septet. The Trio gave us a beautifully detailed account, but it was the Zemlinsky, which filled my head as I drove home from this thrilling concert.