Brahms: Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38; Cello Sonata in F major, Op. 99, Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 108

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Sony Classical
WORKS: Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38; Cello Sonata in F major, Op. 99, Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 108
PERFORMER: Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Emanuel Ax (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SK48191 DDD
More than 20 years separated the composition of Brahms’s two sonatas for cello and piano, and the characters of the works are quite distinct. The first is the more lyrical and has a finale which looks back to Bach. The second – one of the composer’s finest chamber works – is on a more heroic scale; bolder, more emotional and rhapsodic.

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This is the second version of the sonatas put on disc by the established partnership of Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma, whose earlier recording is about to be reissued by RCA at mid-price. They have a fine rapport and there is plenty of spontaneity, intensity and Brahmsian warmth in the playing.

If occasionally one might wish for a larger tonal presence from Ma this is a fairly minor quibble compared to the pleasure the performances give, and Ax accompanies with energy and insight throughout. The fugal movement which closes the E minor sonata is handled splendidly, and Op. 99 is played with genuine passion by both artists – the cello really singing out.

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The inspired accounts of the sonatas by Rostropovich and Serkin (DG) remain in a class of their own, although Ax and Ma provide a third sonata as a bonus – an adaptation of Brahms’s D minor Violin Sonata – in which their own enjoyment of the music is readily conveyed. Fred Sansom