Brahms Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3

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COMPOSERS: Johannes Brahms
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3
PERFORMER: Anthony Marwood (violin); Aleksandar Madžar (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: WHLIVE0050

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These recordings are of live performances at the Wigmore Hall between September 2010 and May 2011. They were well worth preserving, for Anthony Marwood and Aleksandar Mad˘zar have lived with the three Brahms Sonatas a considerable while, and their interpretations have matured like good wine. Especially impressive is their absolute unanimity of approach: the sense they convey that they are not merely equal partners but equally important voices in Brahms’s polyphonic textures. The breadth of their phrasing, the constant search for fluidity, so that each movement sounds as if encompassed within a single expressive outpouring, is also very striking.

Each of the three Sonatas seems perfectly characterised, and the performers’ wide range of tone-colour enhances the warmth and intimacy of the G major as much as the severity and pathos of the D minor, along with the franker lyricism of the A major (where Marwood and Mad˘zar’s approach, they admit in the booklet notes, has gravitated over time to something closer to Richard Strauss than Beethoven). All in all these are admirable and highly competitive versions, in lively and pleasingly natural sound. It’s a crowded field, of course: dominated by such classic versions as Henryk Szeryng and Artur Rubinstein or Josef Suk and Julius Katchen. Among more recent issues there’s an excellent Shlomo Mintz and Itamar Golan double album from Avie, and an estimable version from Renaud Capuçon and Nicholas Angelich on Virgin Classics, not to mention Arabella Steinbacher’s beautifully-recorded Pentatone SACD with Robert Kulek, which includes the ‘F-A-E’ Scherzo. My long-standing favourite has been Augustin Dumay and Maria João Pires on DG, yet Marwood and Mad˘zar are so good I’m tempted to make them the new benchmark among contemporary recordings.

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Calum MacDonald