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Brahms: Violin Sonatas

Leila Schayegh, Jan Schultz (Glossa)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Violin Sonata No. 1 in G, Op. 78; Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 100; Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108; F-A-E Sonata – Allegro
Leila Schayegh (violin), Jan Schultz (piano)
Glossa GCD 924201   69:42 mins

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If you listened to this recording without being aware of its musical intentions, you’d probably be quite shocked: ensemble is fluid, rather than tight; piano chords are rolled; position changes on the violin are undisguised, with copious portamentos; and tone is light, often unmodulated by vibrato. But Leila Schayegh’s note makes it clear that the purpose, using instruments (or a copy) from Brahms’s time, is to recapture a version of historical truth, and it’s no surprise that she’s best known as a performer of Baroque music.

This goes far beyond the recordings of Isabelle Faust or Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch, and it takes some getting used to. The fact that pianist and violinist are clearly aiming for the same objective, even though sometimes taking slightly different routes, helps coherence. It’s often the rhythmic spring and sense of pulse and rubato that keeps these performances, if not exactly on the straight and narrow, at least within recognisable bounds. This is most convincing in faster music, less so in slower, more lyrical melodies, where the sliding between notes is not always consistent, and can induce a queasy feeling – the juxtaposition of these aspects of the music in the second movement of the Second Sonata is a telling demonstration of the two sides of the coin. There is technical adroitness and detail from both players, but this is a disc for those who want to try something a little off the wall: after the recording ended, I went back to the beginning, and, although more admiring, still felt disconcerted.

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Martin Cotton