In his accompanying note to this release Clive Greensmith lays
down a few performance imperatives. The disc is broadly “historically
inspired” with pianist Boris Berman using an 1885 Bechstein baby
grand, further noting that apparently Brahms preferred smaller
grands and had an aversion to Viennese concert grands. Greensmith
himself plays on his accustomed Strad but with four gut strings
– allowing him to blend better with the piano and not, he avers,
for slavish reasons. One result has been an avoidance of big sound
generic performance and the establishment of different principles
– plangent tone allied to long bow. Another has been a good balance
between the two instruments, something that is exceptionally difficult
to get right normally.
The proof is in
the dessert. Here are performances of interior expressive
eloquence. The E minor is spun with generous flexibility quite
the opposite of the Russian School’s high wire act of projection
and articulation. There’s no digging into the string. Instead
utilising the gut strings sensitively Greensmith draws a wide
range of tone colours. Occasionally a slightly nasal tone
emerges in the more strenuous passagework but the balance
between the two instruments remains excellent. Greensmith
and Berman catch the dance rhythms of Menuetto, the give and
take between them finely judged. The rhythmic emphases are
subtly deployed and the finale’s vibrant and exciting. The
cello is recorded quite forwardly and Berman plays with rewarding
control – his treble glinting dextrously.
sonata opens with well projected fanfare themes. The sense
of integration of the two instruments is certainly palpable.
The slow movement is limpidly phrased and again introspective
in tenor. Berman’s tonal gradations are laudable and Greensmith’s
pizzicati ring out defiantly. Ensemble qualities are evident
throughout this performance with the third movement’s rubati
well attended to.
Coupled with the
Brahms sonatas is Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Style Op.102.
They range from the darkly raffish to the reflective to the
humorous and toughly delineated final one (Starck und
markiert). The recording is close enough to pick up Greensmith’s
sniffs – those intakes of breath are especially noticeable
when he has to deal with, say, the difficult-to-phrase fast
sections of the third piece.
These are altogether
subtle and variegated performances tending toward the interior.
As such they’re diametrically opposed to, say, the Rostropovich/Serkin
or du Pré/Barenboim approaches or going further back, the
Feuermann recording of No. 1.