Brahms: Violin Concerto; String Sextet No. 2

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Violin Concerto; String Sextet No. 2
PERFORMER: Isabelle Faust, Julia-Maria Kretz (violin), Stefan Fehlandt, Pauline Sachse (viola), Christoph Richter, Xenia Jankovic (cello); Mahler CO/Daniel Harding

It’s good to find so many musicians trying to think Brahms afresh. What makes Isabelle Faust’s Violin Concerto special is that she both thinks and feels the music freshly. The dance rhythms in the outer movements, which can so easily coagulate when the emphasis is on thick-pile solo and orchestral tone, are so full of life here. 
But it’s the lyricism that really carries the music.
It isn’t always tender and generous, yet the ultimate impression is of a Brahms who’s emotionally more sensitive – vulnerable even. The affinity with his artistic father figure Robert Schumann is still there, two decades after Schumann’s death. Equally valuable is the sense of interplay between Faust and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Strong personality though she is, she never treats the work as a star vehicle.
It’s entirely in keeping with this approach that Faust uses the little-known accompanied cadenza Busoni wrote for this Concerto in 1913: the orchestra retains a presence, allowing the soloist to step centre stage but reacting discreetly to her thoughts. It’s a wonderful piece of writing that slots into, or rather fuses with Brahms’s score so naturally that I hope we’ll be hearing more of it. 
String Sextet No. 2 is given a fine, if not quite so thoroughly engaging performance. The Nash Ensemble remain top recommendation there, though the delicacy and intelligent intensity of this new version make it a more than adequate introduction. Stephen Johnson