Beethoven * Brahms

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Brahms
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven * Brahms
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Symphony No. 8; String Sextet No. 1
PERFORMER: Augustin Dumay, Svetlin Roussev (violin), Miguel da Silva, Marie Chilemme (viola), Henri Demarquette, Aurélien Pascal (cello); Sinfonia Varsovia/Augustin Dumay (violin); Kansai Philharmonic/Augustin Dumay
CATALOGUE NO: Onyx 4154

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A small detail, you might say – but while this set is clearly intended to demonstrate Augustin Dumay’s breadth of musicianship, he still has the grace to put his name in smaller letters than those of Beethoven and Brahms on the cover. You do get the impression Dumay has put his prodigious talents at the service, not just of each composer, but of each individual work. In fact listening to the crisp and bracingly energetic Beethoven Eighth after the Violin Concerto you might think you were listening to two different creative spirits. The Concerto is very Romantic: affectionate, sweet-toned, full of generous rubato and with traditional devices like the big drop in tempo before the first movement recapitulation firmly and unapologetically re-embraced. In the Eighth Symphony however it suddenly sounds as though Dumay has been studying period and post-period exemplars like John Eliot Gardiner and Riccardo Chailly. The familiar warmth is still there, but now there’s a much firmer sense of disciplined purposefulness, and barely a rubato in sight. Whatever your opinions on the morality of style, there’s a lovely generosity and enthusiasm about Dumay’s playing and direction that makes it all very hard to resist, and there are moments of genuine fresh insight.

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However the Brahms is a reminder that it’s possible to take warmth and generosity too far. There’s so much love in each phrase and in each inner exchange that after a while it gets a bit overwhelming. At first I enjoyed it, then after a while I could imagine Brahms making one of his characteristically barbed jokes. The Beethoven is certainly enjoyable, but I wonder how repeatable? Stephen Johnson