Brahms’s Violin Concerto and Violin Sonata No. 1 performed by Vadim Gluzman and Angela Yoffe

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Violin Sonata No. 1; Scherzo in C minor
PERFORMER: Vadim Gluzman (violin), Angela Yoffe (piano); Lucerne Symphony Orchestra/James Gaffigan
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2172 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Listening to Vadim Gluzman soaring aloft in what many consider the finest of all violin concertos, it seems unbelievable that one critic at the work’s Berlin premiere considered it ‘trash’ not fit even for ‘student fodder’. Gluzman’s heartfelt eloquence and unbridled passion reminded me of Isaac Stern’s classic CBS/Sony account, although the Russian is far more realistically balanced and James Gaffigan’s unfailingly attentive Lucerne players sound almost chamber-like in their textural detailing compared to the sonic heft of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy in full cry. 

In the G major Violin Sonata Gluzman and the velvet-toned Angela Yoffe fully justify expectations raised by their previous coupling of the two Prokofiev sonatas. If the general tendency in this work is to play it as the autumnal reflections of an old man (Brahms was only in his mid-40s at the time of composing), Gluzman and Yoffe uncover a yearning freshness in its introspective musings. They make it feel emotionally closer to, say, the near-contemporaneous Second Symphony than the microcosmic late piano works and Clarinet Quintet.

To finish, the force-of-nature C minor Scherzo, which transplants the opening motif of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (in the same key) to the down beat as part of an outburst of sustained sturm und drang angst that in this dashing performance fully captures the sense of the young creative genius in overdrive.

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Julian Haylock