Brahms Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3 and Scherzo from FAE Sonata performed by Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3; Scherzo from FAE Sonata
PERFORMER: Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Lars Vogt (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1284-2

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Brahms may seem straightforward, but like his notoriously gruff humour that really is a mask. In his music a highly sensitive, Schumannesque Romantic struggles with an obsessive, at times slightly donnish neo-classicist. That very tension adds to its fascination, especially in the chamber music. Listening to these performances, however, I sometimes get the impression that Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt want to drag the composer out of his book-lined study and seal the door. It’s beautiful playing, tonally and expressively, and very musical, but it’s also surprisingly open – Brahms after an expensive course of Viennese psychotherapy, you might say. 

So much attention to tiny but telling detail could compromise the sense of each movement as a whole. It says a great deal for both musicians that that almost never happens. I did say ‘almost’ – the long piano solo that opens the First Sonata’s slow movement is so charged with Mahlerian intensity that for a moment one might forget this was actually a duo sonata. It’s impressive, but where’s that Brahmsian guarded quality – that emotional reserve that in the score compelled him to add a typical restraining ‘poco’ (‘a little’) before the ‘forte, espressivo’? Enjoyable performances in all, but they don’t give the whole story.

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Stephen Johnson