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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in G, Op. 78 (1879) [28:01]
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 100 (1886) [19:43]
Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108 (1888) [20:11]
Kyung-Wha Chung (violin)
Peter Frankl (piano)
rec. September 1995, St George’s Church, Brandon Hill, Bristol
EMI CLASSICS ENCORE 2357172 [67:56]

 

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This disc does exactly what EMI Encore’s label is designed to do: it returns to the catalogue, at budget price, a recording which, while not top of the recommendable list, is thoroughly dependable and very satisfying.  While Chung’s Brahms may not set the world on fire the music is safe in her hands and most listeners, particularly first-timers, will be fully satisfied with her playing.
 

During his lifetime Brahms was more in demand for his chamber music than for his orchestral works, and these sonatas evince a true understanding for the workings of the violin similar to that of the Violin Concerto – indeed the first sonata dates from the same year as the concerto.  The first sonata is the most successful on this disc, its world of twilit beauty standing in marked contrast to the grandstanding of the concerto.  The first movement, in particular, shows a profound lyricism that we don’t always expect from Brahms.  In the second movement Frankl’s piano plumbs darker emotions while Chung’s violin sometimes engages and sometimes ignores her colleague’s music.  There is a real sense of musical dialogue here, as in the opening movement of the second sonata where the violin and piano work in a hand-in-glove partnership, even trying out each other’s themes.  The same partnership is there in the second movement with its songful main theme which alternates with more agitated scherzo-like passages.  There is more drama and tension from the third sonata, with the opening movement showing more of the almost symphonic working-out that Brahms was so renowned for.  There an architectural grandeur about the finale, despite its marking of presto agitato, while the hymn-like adagio stands as the serene centre of the work. 

The playing here is first rate.  Chung and Frankl clearly benefited from a long period of rehearsal and communication, as well as an extensive performance process (this disc was recorded in sessions over nine days) and they are at their best in the moments of lyricism, especially in the slow movements and in the opening of the first sonata.  They rise to the challenges of the stormier passages in No. 3 too, however, and they are helped by warm, ambient sound engineered by the late and much lamented Christopher Raeburn.  This Brahms may not send a shiver down your spine in the way that Perlman/Barenboim or Capuçon/Angelich so regularly do, but it remains a strong contender, especially at this bargain price.

Simon Thompson

 


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