Brahms: Violin Sonata in G, Op. 78; Violin Sonata in A, Op. 100; Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 108; Scherzo in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Violin Sonata in G, Op. 78; Violin Sonata in A, Op. 100; Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 108; Scherzo in C minor
PERFORMER: Vladimir Spivakov (violin) Mikhail Rudy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61390 2 DDD
When the famous violinist Joseph Joachim visited Düsseldorf in 1853, Schumann, together with his pupil Albert Dietrich and his 20-year-old house-guest Johannes Brahms, wrote a composite ‘greetings’ sonata. Brahms’s contribution was a fiery scherzo using the ‘fate’ rhythm from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and written in the same key of C minor. Such self-confidence vis-à-vis Beethoven deserted Brahms in his mature years, nor did he publish any further music for violin and piano for more than a quarter of a century. Only the last of his three violin sonatas, in D minor, returns to the dramatic style of that early Scherzo; the first two are predominantly lyrical works, and both make use of material from actual songs. The first sonata is constructed around the rhythm of the melancholy ‘Regenlied’, while the second contains reminiscences from at least three songs, all written for the singer Hermine Spies (who confessed to a veritable ‘Johannes-Passion’).

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The first thing to be said about this new disc is how immensely impressive the playing is. The subdued agitation of the D minor Sonata is splendidly captured; and Spivakov’s hushed tone leading in to the coda of the A major Sonata’s opening movement is an inspired touch. This is, too, one of the rare performances that maintains the momentum throughout the coda. Only the rather stolid tempo of the same work’s slow movement disappoints: the much-admired recording by Augustin Dumay and Maria João Pires is preferable here, but in all other respects this new version is superior.