Brahms: Viola Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 120/1; Violin Sonata No. 2 in E flat, Op. 120/2; Two Songs, Op. 91

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Viola Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 120/1; Violin Sonata No. 2 in E flat, Op. 120/2; Two Songs, Op. 91
PERFORMER: Marilyn Horne (mezzo-soprano), Pinchas Zukerman (viola), Martin Katz, Marc Neikrug (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61276 2 DDD
Incandescent beauty and commanding eloquence from Zukerman and Neikrug in Brahms’s two Op. 120 Sonatas. The mellifluous, autumnal radiance of Zukerman’s tone (aided by his exceptional 1670 Andrea Guarneri instrument) adds poignancy and gravitas to these readings. Like his 1974 DG survey with Barenboim (reissued and reviewed in January 1993), these performances were taped at New York’s Manhattan Center. They are urgent, lavishly detailed interpretations, broad in concept and emphasis, yet never vulgarised or over-blown. The patrician ardour has mellowed somewhat, though these new performances prove the more satisfying option.

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The F minor work is imbued with inner tensions which less probing musical intellects might readily overlook; these artists leave nothing unsaid, and the playing has its own blend of sinewy vigour, resignation and rhetoric. The E flat Sonata, a work suffused with a nostalgia and lyricism wholly typical of late Brahms, draws playing of intoxicating intensity and amplitude from this expert duo. These sonatas were originally written for the Meiningen court clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld in 1891, and the composer might well have reeled in astonishment at the glories revealed here in what is, after all, a secondary incarnation for them.

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His reaction might have been similar had he heard Marilyn Horne’s affectionate delivery of the two songs, Op. 91, fruits of a previous, though equally catalytic musical friendship with the Joachims. The earlier song anticipated the arrival of their first child, and features a medieval carol set as viola obbligato. The Rückert setting came much later, yet it became the first panel of this unusual diptych. These are coercively beautiful performances, and I can only endorse this release with unqualified admiration and gratitude. Michael Jameson