Brahms: Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3
PERFORMER: Jack Liebeck (violin), Katya Apekisheva (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 88697623842

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Technically you can’t fault Jack Liebeck, or when it comes to grasping each sonata as a single structure. He’s also strongly partnered by Katya Apekisheva – so much more than an accompanist, as this music demands.

Listening to the glorious opening of the First Sonata one is struck by the elegance of the lines, the purposeful but unhurried momentum and the refined tone. But it soon becomes clear that something important is missing.

It’s in the chamber and instrumental music above all that the older Brahms drops his carefully contrived patrician Classical mask. The structures are as strong and intricate as ever, but the personal, confidential tone is – or should be – equally clear.

Whether it’s in the strange, hushed build-up over a sustained bass pedal that stands in lieu of the normal ‘development’ in the first movement Op. 108, or in the telling transformations of the song-based theme in the finale of Op. 78, something acutely personal is exposed.

Liebeck’s playing is very beautiful here, but it’s a largely abstract beauty. The tiny but intensely significant expressive touches that made Arthur Grumiaux’s Brahms – or more recently Krysia Osostowicz’s – so memorable are missing.

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Liebeck brings freshness, clarity, intelligence – all welcome, but not the expressive warmth and subtle intimacy without which the real Brahms remains hidden behind his intellectual defences. I suspect his Brahms still needs time to ripen expressively. When it has, he should have a lot to tell us about this music. Stephen Johnson