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

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 1, Violin Sonata No. 2, Violin Sonata No. 3; Scherzo
PERFORMER: Pierre Amoyal (violin); Frederic Chiu (piano)
These are on the whole fine performances of Brahms’s three violin sonatas, plus the C minor Scherzo which was his contribution to a composite ‘greetings’ Sonata organised by Schumann in honour of Joseph Joachim. Pierre Amoyal’s warm tone is a particular pleasure throughout (he plays the famous ‘Kocha?ski’ Stradivarius), and he is well served by a sonorous recording. However, as one tenderly lingering performance succeeds another, one begins to feel that the music sounds just a shade episodic and under-characterised. For all their predominantly lyrical character (both contain material derived from actual songs), the G major and A major Sonatas are by no means entirely bereft of drama and tension — moments where the music needs a little more urgency and momentum than it receives here. As for the last Sonata, in D minor, its opening movement has an undercurrent of unease that is not quite fully conveyed by these artists, while the impact of its finale — one of Brahms’s most turbulent pieces — is weakened by Frederic Chiu’s somewhat soft-centred piano-playing. In short, although these affectionate performances have much to recommend them, Brahms lovers seeking a more rounded picture of these great works may want to turn elsewhere. Among recent interpretations of the G major Sonata I have been particularly impressed by the young Georgian violinist Elisabeth Batiashvili (EMI Debut), but for all three sonatas Augustin Dumay and Maria João Pires provide a rewarding alternative. Their disc does not, however, include the C minor Scherzo. Misha Donat