> Johannes Brahms - Violin Sonatas [PJL]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonatas

Sonata No 1 in G major, Op 78 (1878) [28.19]
Sonata No 2 in A major, Op 100 (1886) [21.14]
Sonata No 3 in D minor, Op 108 (1888) [22.18]
Ilya Kaler (violin) & Alexander Peskanov (piano)
recorded 27-29 December 2000 in the Toronto Centre for the Arts, Toronto DDD
NAXOS 8.554828 [71.50]


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The Naxos story is indeed an extraordinary one. With a huge catalogue embracing both familiar and unfamiliar music, what Naxos offers us (whether we be serious collectors, or simply dipping our toes experimentally into uncharted waters) is hardly ever less than a thoroughly adequate recording and performance, and (increasingly often) a release which compares with the best, even in a hotly competitive arena. As a rule, it is in music off the proverbial beaten track where Naxos scores most consistently; in core repertory, their (often young) artists don’t always command the maturity and experience necessary to enable their music-making to stand comparison with the great performers we associate with the major recording companies.

But there are notable exceptions. This new release of the three Brahms violin sonatas – core repertory, to be sure; indeed, music on many a musician’s desert island short list – deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as any in the catalogue, and certainly the Suk-Katchen, Perlman-Ashkenazy, Zukerman-Barenboim, Dumay-Pires and Osostowicz-Tomes partnerships with which I am most familiar.

Ilya Kaler has already recorded extensively for Naxos, most notably the Paganini Caprices and (among others) the Glazunov, Dvořák and Shostakovich concertos: also, nearer to home, an altogether splendid Brahms ‘Double’. He has distinguished himself as a perceptive player with infinite technical resource and considerable musicianship. Here, his playing (as always) is impressively secure, ranging from the genuinely beautiful (witness the intimate vocal lines of Op. 78’s opening movement) to the restlessly passionate – as in the Presto agitato finale of Op. 108.

Fellow Russian Alexander Peskanov is a new name to me, and I approached this new issue with interest but (if I’m honest) modest expectations on account of it. I need not have worried. He is a discreet and sensitive accompanist who plays supportively, completely at one with his partner, and with all the poise and polish one could want: so the singing music of the G major and A major Sonatas are a joy to listen to. But he is also a very masculine player, who (where Brahms requires it of him) brings real weight and authority to his role: so the dark drama of the D minor Sonata is truly involving. With playing like this, one can only look forward to hearing his commanding voice and muscular articulation in (say) the great D minor or B flat Piano Concertos.

With recording as clean and as natural as any, this is an outstanding release. I give you my word that, if you put this disc on your shopping list, disappointment is unthinkable!

Peter J Lawson

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