This brace of Brahms
Sonata discs shows the difference between
a thoroughly competent reading and one
versed in the art of making things happen.
Almond and Wolfram start with the disadvantage
of a very clangorous acoustic. It has
the effect sometimes of making the piano
too loud and the violin too quiet. But
they are experienced chamber players
and form part of a wider and like-minded
group, An die Musik, whose praises I
have sung here before now.
In the Op.108 Sonata,
and despite Wolfram’s often very assertive
chording, things can get rather muted
and the passagework becalmed. Almond
has a rather thin tone and makes few
obviously expressive gestures. This
pays dividends if you want a regretful
rather than a passionately controlled
slow movement but tension flags elsewhere,
even in the Scherzo. The Op.78 Sonata
is pretty similar; the first movement
pizzicato doesn’t really sound, and
some of the phrasing in this work is
deadpan to the point of unimaginative.
Things seem slower than they actually
are because of a certain rhythmic lassitude
and lack of sharp corners. In Op.100
they take too much of a moderato
approach to the Allegro amabile opening
and throughout – even the very slowly
taken central movement – they are paragraphal
and not nearly colourful enough tonally.
team make a much better impression.
Ringborg, whose approach to Roman’s
solo violin works, the Assaggi, was
so successful – see my review
- is an adept player, though he should
fight a tendency to swelling tone. He
has a fast-ish vibrato and approaches
Op.108 with a certain soloistic panache.
Whilst the acoustic isn’t especially
warm or overtly attractive – it’s distinctly
chilly and encourages tonal shrillness
– he and Kilström take the same
basic tempo as Almond and Wolfram but
they sound consistently fleeter and
more engaging; their reflexes are faster,
their tones full of greater colour,
and the violinist isn’t afraid to voice
some attractive expressive touches In
Op.100 they’re attractively subtle and
though Ringborg sets off at slightly
too fast a tempo in the central movement
he soon settles down. Op.78 shows renewed
superiority to the American pair with
a greater availability of just those
components that make music of this kind
live – colour, rhythm, metrical effects.
I wouldn’t care to
rank the Ringborg-Kilström team
in a field so wide. I would say that
the recordings of Suk-Katchen, Grumiaux-Hajdu
and Goldberg-Balsam are near the top,
should there be a Discographic Parnassus.
Of individual historical Sonata performances,
Szigeti-Petri for their expressive power
in No.3 and Heifetz as an exemplar of
Darwinism in action in No.2 (to the
point of ruthlessness).