Brahms’ three great outpourings for violin and
piano represent pinnacles of the violin’s chamber repertoire,
and it is a pleasure to welcome Perlman and Ashkenazy’s traversal
as part of EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century series. Inspiration
was obviously caught on the wing, for all three sonatas were put
down in the space of four days: with Christopher Parker as engineer
and Suvi Raj Grubb as producer. The credentials of the recording
team are impeccable. Indeed, the recorded sound seems to capture
the two artists’ individual sounds remarkably. Whether Ashkenazy
as pianist appeals is a highly personal matter, for his tone can
be shallow (perhaps too much so for this repertoire). That said,
the two instrumentalists work together with just the right amount
of give and take and their understanding of the Brahmsian sound-world
is so sure and firm that this misgiving really pails into insignificance.
Perlman’s warm tone suits the G major sonata’s
wistful air well, and both players are intimate enough with the
work to let it unfold at its own pace. The Adagio brings beautiful
stopping from Perlman and perfectly judged chording from his pianist,
but it is the finale that, aptly, proves the emotional climax.
Perlman’s playing in particular is warm and unaffected.
Ashkenazy eases into the Sonata No. 2 as if from
nowhere. The sonata appears fully self-confident yet unutterably
contented here. Only in the more dynamic chordal exchanges could
Ashkenazy have imbued the sound with more depth of tone; but his
playfulness in the second movement more than makes up for this.
Perhaps the first movement of the mighty D minor
sonata is the weak point of the set. Despite the aching lyricism
of the opening, concentration dips, an occurrence all the more
striking given the rapt, interior account of the Adagio. Nice
how the third movement creeps its way in, quite in keeping with
its playful, skittish nature. The finale is dynamic and strong
(especially on Perlman’s side).
As a collection of the three violin sonatas on
one disc, this disc has an enormous amount to recommend it. It
should not, perhaps, be the only set of these pieces in one’s
collection (indeed, there is a performance of the Third Sonata
by David Oistrakh and Vladimir Yampolsky in this same series that
provides an ideal companion to Perlman/Ashkenazy: review),
but it remains a version to return to on a regular basis.
of the century