Brahms, Shostakovich

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Shostakovich
LABELS: Live Classics
WORKS: Violin Sonata in G, Op. 78
PERFORMER: Oleg Kagan (violin), Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
So many performances of the Brahms G major Sonata are gentle, lyrical, exquisitely melancholic that it’s easy to think that’s the sum of the piece. This one is not. Kagan and Richter, recorded live in Moscow in 1985, take the opening at an unfamiliarly urgent clip and infuse each movement with a sense of passion and danger: this is a big statement, no charming sonatina. If they take liberties with the text in dynamics and phrasing, creating a spontaneous feeling to this familiar music, there’s no question that these remarkable artists are committed to taking risks together, so that they find things in the music that not all performers ever manage to see. It’s the sort of performance Thomas Adès, who ‘can’t forgive Brahms for his self-pity’ (see interview, July issue) ought to listen to.


The reading of Shostakovich’s late Sonata is equally remarkable, epic and architectonic, stressing this still-underrated piece’s power and gravity. Richter, of course, gave the world premiere in 1969 with David Oistrakh: that performance, subsequently issued by Melodiya, sounds cooler and graver in comparison. Kagan’s more mercurial temperament and Richter’s continual thirst for fresh discoveries in familiar texts make for a very different experience. There’s precious little elegy and a great deal of anger in their reading, but beyond that there’s a sense of pride and a magisterial quality of control. Audience noise, occasionally obtrusive, cannot detract from these magnificent interpretations. Calum MacDonald