Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G; Violin Sonata 2 in A; Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor; Scherzo in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G; Violin Sonata 2 in A; Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor; Scherzo in C minor
PERFORMER: Pinchas Zukerman (violin); Marc Neikrug (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61697 2
Once asked why he had orchestrated Brahms’s G minor Piano Quartet, Schoenberg disarmingly replied: ‘1. I like this piece. 2. It is seldom played. 3. It is always very badly played, because the better the pianist the louder he plays, and you hear nothing from the strings.’ In the recording studio such problems of balance are easily circumvented; but given a sensitive chamber musician like Ralf Gothóni, Schoenberg may well have had a good deal less to worry about in any case. Gothóni is well matched by his colleagues, and these impressive performances capture all the music’s uneasy tension. Only in the flamboyant gypsy-style finale of the G minor Quartet (where Schoenberg’s transcription famously uses a xylophone) are the slower episodes perhaps a little too drawn out.

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If the G minor Piano Quartet was a rarity in Schoenberg’s day, Brahms’s string quintets – and particularly the first of the pair – are still among his most neglected pieces. The outer movements of this F major work may not be among his most successful pieces, but the middle movement is one of his most intriguing amalgams of slow movement and scherzo.

The veteran Juilliard Quartet (it is exactly fifty years since the leader, Robert Mann, founded the group) plays this music with warmth and obvious affection. Perhaps a younger ensemble would have brought more verve to the boisterous finale of the G major Quintet, but these are likeable performances, and well recorded.

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Pinchas Zukerman’s new version of the violin sonatas is a disappointment. His own playing is admirably stylish, but Marc Neikrug is a rather unimaginative pianist with little sense of line or character.