Brahms: Sonatas for Violin & Piano (complete)

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LABELS: Boolean Recordings
WORKS: Sonatas for Violin & Piano (complete)
PERFORMER: Frank Almond (violin), William Wolfram (piano)
Now that the major record labels have realised how much cheaper and easier it is to recycle their back catalogues rather than record new artists, one will increasingly have to turn for novelties to tiny labels of which one has never heard – such as Boolean Recordings, which sells CDs through its web site. The booklet of this one bears the ominous announcement that ‘This CD was recorded without the use of animal testing’. But don’t let such whimsicality fool you into expecting an amateurish performance, for Americans Frank Almond and William Wolfram have produced a marvellous recording which builds compellingly from a restrained and attenuated beginning to a climax of startling intensity. They open in comparative tranquillity with Brahms’s G major Sonata, in which Almond’s fragile and beautiful tone provides an ideal conduit for the work’s uneasy lyricism. Fears that restraint will be the disc’s key note are dispelled by the duo’s performance of the A major Sonata: much more outspoken, the performances range freely over a variety of moods, with the emphasis on the full-blooded. Brahms’s final Sonata – more taut and concentrated than the other two – draws from Almond and Wolfram what can be seen as a synthesis of their two previous readings. After a luminous slow movement, the disc ends with an explosive finale which reaffirms the players’ unassailable technical mastery and absolute temperamental harmonisation. Some sort of standard is offered by Perlman and Ashkenazy; Almond and Wolfram are not out of place in such company. Christopher Wood