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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 121a (1851) [27’58].
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Sonatas – No. 1 in G, Op. 78b (1879) [26’38]; No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108c (1888) [20’06].
Yehudi Menuhin (violin); Hephzibah Menuhin (piano).
Rec. aParis, May 22nd and July 3rd, 1934; bAustralia on September 18th, 1940; cLondon on July 1st, 1936. ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110771 [74’42]


An excellent disc of two D minor sonatas sandwiching a sunny G major. Tully Potter, as always, annotates both faithfully and interestingly for Naxos. He points out that this is the only recording by this brother and sister duo of the Schumann – we should be grateful for what we have, for this is a strong reading on a grand scale. The very opening is assertiveness personified. Yehudi emerges as rather wiry though, a sound which perhaps suits the first movement proper (‘Lebhaft’) better than its ‘Ziemlich langsam’ introduction. Indeed, the main body is concentratedly determined. Hephzibah enchants the ear regularly in her imaginative tonal variety – perhaps more than her brother does.

Potter suggests the second movement (‘Sehr lebhaft’) is the finest. There is no denying the liveliness from both protagonists, although it is the third movement (‘Leise, einfach’) that impressed me the most. Yehudi manages to make his pizzicato melody give the impression of legato, and in combination with Hephzibah’s exquisitely shaded accompaniment this approach plumbs the depths of Schumann’s interior world well. When the violin changes to arco (bowed) playing at 1’07 it is a magical moment – a pity a ‘squeak’ from Yehudi later in the phrase detracts. The finale is the weakest, for there is a sense of this almost being caught on the wing, of it almost being playing of abandon, free from the recording studio. The ‘almost’ does lead to a certain frustration that they did not quite get there. Ensemble threatens to separate on occasion, although it never really does.

Two of Brahms’ magnificent sonatas make up the rest of the disc. The G major hails from Australian sessions in 1940, while the Menuhins were on tour and there is much to admire. The first movement begins well with Yehudi at his subtle best. The music flows well, and the end is little short of magnificent. The Adagio needs a more sonorous approach (and Yehudi is not always 100% technically secure), yet the finale is delicate and fresh as a daisy, the ending full of peace. Hephzibah accompanies with a great deal of finesse throughout.

The very opening of the more impassioned D minor Sonata, Op. 108 is masterly – has anyone else crept in as beautifully as this?. It is in this piece that the Menuhins are caught at their very best. Hephzibah excels in particular in the third movement, with much playful, skittish playing, while both players contribute to a massively exciting finale.

Ward Marston is again the excellent ‘Audio Restoration Producer’. It is lovely to hear these HMV DBs so lovingly restored.

Colin Clarke

See also review by Jonathan Woolf


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