Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 3; FAE Scherzo

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LABELS: Intrada
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 3; FAE Scherzo
PERFORMER: Marina Chiche (violin), Vahan Mardirossian (piano)
Even people who, like George Bernard Shaw and Benjamin Britten, dismiss Brahms as stodgy and turgid can succumb to the three violin sonatas. And small wonder. Each one, even the darkly passionate D minor (No. 3) is crammed full of glorious, spontaneous-sounding tunes; and nowhere else, except perhaps in the Violin Concerto, do we find Brahms the architect and Brahms the songwriter in such perfect equilibrium. The sonatas have, of course, been recorded by just about every violin-piano duo of the last half-century. And accomplished though this well-balanced young French-Armenian partnership is, they can’t match the ripeness and expressive subtlety of the performances by, inter alia, Grumiaux and Sebok, Suk and Katchen (Decca) and, most recently, Christian Tetzlaff with Lars Vogt (EMI). Marina Chiche, with her warm, full-bodied tone, and Vahan Mardirossian are at their best when Brahms is at his most assertive and impassioned, most obviously in their fiery, big-boned performances of the D minor’s outer movements. While their openness and directness elsewhere have their merits, there are too many passages of prose where others distil poetry. One recurrent problem is rhythmic literalness. I’m thinking, for instance, of the potentially magical opening of the G major, here given straight to a fault; or the scherzo episode in No. 2’s Andante (compare the delicious Viennese lilt of Grumiaux and Sebök); or the mysterious, crepuscular third movement of No. 3, which remains determinedly in the daylight. Granted, what I hear as under-characterised will strike some as refreshingly unaffected. And when stirred – say, in the second theme of the A major’s opening Allegro amabile – the players can certainly build a soaring, glowing climax. But with their tender, supple shaping of the lyrical melodies, imaginative range of colour and unerring command of the longer Brahmsian line, Grumiaux with Sebok and Tetzlaff with Vogt offer altogether deeper, richer rewards. Richard Wigmore