Brahms • R Schumann
Brahms: Viola Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Sonatensatz (arr. Katims); R Schumann: Adagio & Allegro, Op. 70
Philip Dukes (viola), Peter Donohoe (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20146 58:45 mins
Brahms composed his two Op. 120 Sonatas for the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld, and they’re most familiar in their original form. But Brahms also made alternative versions for violin and for viola, and viola players have taken the sonatas to their heart with good reason: the viola’s range is similar to that of the clarinet, and its instrument’s warm, husky tones are well suited to the music. Brahms added a few double stops in the viola part, and made some changes to the clarinet’s melodic line – notably in the trio section of the second sonata’s middle movement. Some 40 years earlier, Brahms composed a scherzo for violin and piano as his contribution to a composite ‘greetings’ sonata for Joseph Joachim. The viola adaptation by the American player Milton Katims works very well – perhaps better than the authentic viola version of Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro Op. 70, originally written for horn and piano. It’s a piece that’s more often taken up by cellists, in its other alternative form.
Philip Dukes’s love of this music is everywhere apparent in his affectionate performances, but the recording throws up problems: the piano is just a little too distantly placed, and yet Peter Donohoe’s strong personality tends to overwhelm the music-making. Donohoe is a fine pianist, but perhaps not an instinctive chamber player: there’s a certain lack of intimacy at times, particularly in such moments as the hushed penultimate variation in the second sonata of Brahms’s pair, or in the meltingly beautiful introduction to the Schumann piece.