Brahms: Violin Sonatas Nos 1–3
If Brahms is the great 19th-century ‘Classical-Romantic’, should a performance lean one way or the other, or try to achieve balance? At first it seems quite clear which option these performers favour. Sample Sergey and Lusine Khachatryan’s recordings at any point and there’s plenty of supple rubato, tone is sweet and soulful, the expression remarkably ‘open’. It never quite goes over the top though. The emotion seems to come from within the notes: it’s not ‘applied’, like make-up. Added to that, this brother-and-sister team share their understanding of how this music should go at a fairly deep level.
As one listens, it becomes clear that they have a strong grasp of each movement as a structure. Classicism may not be uppermost, but it certainly hasn’t been sacrificed. Nor has subtlety: the long hushed passage over a sustained bass note at the heart of the Third Sonata’s opening movement is quietly riveting. And although I’d normally prefer a slightly more chaste approach in the opening of Sonata No. 1, the Khachatryans’ reading is very beautiful, and the flow of Brahms’s long lines is expertly judged.
It may not be the kind of Brahms I’d want to return to out of preference, but judged on its own terms it’s satisfying and surprisingly seductive. The recordings are lovely: warm and clear with violin and piano finely balanced.