Brahms • Dohnányi
Brahms: Sonata in F minor, Op. 120 No. 1; Sonata in E flat major, Op. 120 No. 2; Dohnányi: Sonata in C sharp minor, Op. 21
Jenna Sherry (violin), Dániel Löwenberg (piano)
BMC BMC CD 295 60:24 mins
Chance encounters can reap enormous creative rewards. Such was the case when Brahms heard the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld in 1891. Mühlfeld’s sweetness of tone and expressive playing prompted Brahms to abandon self-imposed retirement as a composer in order to write a trio and quintet for clarinet, and finally two sonatas. These works are among Brahms’s most lyrically generous, and the composer himself decided to share the joy more widely with adaptations for viola and violin. While the violin versions of the sonatas are not always idiomatic, they certainly deserve more frequent outings.
Dániel Löwenberg’s decision to play an 1898 Steinway certainly adds an interesting sonic dimension, matching Jenna Sherry’s clear violin tone in well recorded performances that are technically irreproachable. Unfortunately, while a certain amount of restraint can work well in Brahms’s chamber music, as a whole these renditions come over as decidedly muted. The faster movements could do with more careful shaping and, frankly, in the case of the rumbustious finale of the F minor Sonata and the wonderful Allegro appassionato of the E flat major Sonata, more uninhibited joy.
Dohnányi’s C sharp minor Sonata goes well with the two Brahms sonatas. Brahms certainly approved of the younger man’s earlier work securing a performance of his Op. 1 Piano Quintet in Vienna in 1895, while for Dohnányi Brahms’s music was a constant stylistic touchstone throughout his career. As in the Brahms sonatas, Löwenberg and Sherry deliver performances that are exemplary from the technical point of view, but as a whole lack passion.