WORKS: Complete works for violin and piano
PERFORMER: Arabella Steinbacher (violin), Robert Kulek (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 367 (hybrid CD/SACD)
There’s a strongly lyrical impulse in Arabella Steinbacher’s playing which is suited to the intimate character of these Sonatas. As in her recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto, to be reviewed next month, Steinbacher opts for expansive and highly expressive interpretations yet avoids any hint of over-indulgence: Portamento is judiciously employed, her double stops are resonant rather than aggressive.
Robert Kulek is an admirable duo partner and projects both the richness and clarity of texture in Brahms’s writing through a carefully controlled use of the pedal, responding with sensitivity to the subtle inflections in Steinbacher’s phrasing. PentaTone’s recording has real presence, emulating the acoustic of a wood-panelled drawing room.
Tempos are leisurely, particularly in the G major Sonata where the approach in the outer movements is largely introverted except for an unexpectedly stormy dialogue in the middle of the opening Vivace non troppo. At the outset of the Adagio, I initially wondered whether the players were taking far too much time over the opening phrases, thereby undermining the sense of flow. These doubts had evaporated by the middle section where the funereal rhythms were powerfully held in check.
In the second movement of the A major Sonata, too, the tempo of the slow sections seems closer to Adagio than to Andante tranquillo. But this caveat hardly detracts from my enthusiasm for these musically insightful performances. Erik Levi