Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Avie
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms Violin Sonatas
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 3
PERFORMER: Shlomo MintzItamar Golan
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2057
These are the kind of performances that bespeak a lifetime’s affection and understanding. I was surprised by the weight and expansiveness of Schlomo Mintz’s tempos in the G major Sonata (it lasts 31 minutes, hardly the sonatina Brahms first envisaged), but before long found myself captivated. Mintz provides intensely Romantic accounts of these intimate yet continually surprising masterpieces – every phrase is caressed, every register probed and exploited to provide maximum colour. Yet he never loses sight of the overall architecture: these interpretations are rich, passionate, instinct with meaning, ideally partnered by Itamar Golan’s highly responsive, intelligent pianism.

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In the violin sonatas Mintz and Golan make well-regarded rivals such as Pierre Amoyal and Pascal Rogé (Decca) sound off-hand and bloodless. I would still plump – just – for Augustin Dumay and Maria João Pires as the benchmark in these works, but Avie’s canny coupling of the two Op. 120 viola sonatas, in performances just as impressive, makes the set an extremely tempting proposition. I could almost wish Mintz had chosen to record the rarely heard (and slightly different) violin versions of Op. 120, but his artistry as a violist is no less satisfying. The incisive characterisation of the individual variations in the finale of the E flat Sonata, and the cogent pacing of their overall succession, is exemplary of the thoughtfulness and attention to detail of Mintz’s approach. And the very early ‘FAE’ Scherzo may be included as a makeweight, but it’s a thrillingly urgent reading. The long-established Zukerman/Barenboim coupling of exactly the same repertoire (DG) is not lightly to be set aside, but they are perhaps over-sweet for some palates and I think I would pick this new release in preference. Avie provides a superb recording, too, beautifully balanced and with a sympathetically realistic ambience. Calum MacDonald