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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata in A, Op.100 (1886) [19:17]
Violin Sonata in D minor, Op.108 (1886-88) [21:11]
Hungarian Dances (1852-69) Nos. 1 [2:58]: 5 [2:34]: 6 [3:15]: 7 [2:06]: 8 [2:38]: 17 [2:44] (arr. Joseph Joachim)
Erica Morini (violin)
Leon Pommers (piano: sonatas)
Artur Balsam (piano: dances)
rec. 1956, Esoteric Studios, NYC (Sonatas) and September 1945, RCA Victor Studio No.1 NYC (Hungarian Dances)

It’s good to see that Erica Morini’s 1956 Brahms sonata recordings for Westminster are getting renewed life in this reissue. They were made with pianist Leon Pommers and this is her only studio inscription of the sonata in A. The Op.108 is best-known from her slightly later re-recording with Firkušný, a recording that certainly has been reissued [MCA] and was part of a triptych of sonata recordings that she made with him at the time – the other two were by Beethoven; the Spring and Op.12 No.3.
Pommers was not in the Czech pianist’s class, and nor was he equal of Artur Balsam who accompanies Morini in the earlier 78 set of six Hungarian Dances. But Pommers, though at times a touch over-metrical, was an attentive artist and his collaboration with Morini is a good one. Noticeable immediately is the boomy tone of his piano’s bass. This, and the nature of the recording, sometimes overbalances things so that he covers Morini from time to time. As for Morini she is, as ever, precise, elegant, and pure-toned, with a calibrated and rather chaste vibrato. She doesn’t make a big sound, seldom digs into the string à la russe and plays her favourite composer with attention to detail and a sense of proportion. Her pizzicati in the second movement of the Op.100 are understated, her bowing supple and unshowy – playing of a piece throughout these two sonatas. The finale of this sonata has a linear directness that respects its indication as an Allegretto grazioso (quasi andante).
The companion Op.108 differs in detailing hardly at all from her recording of it with Firkušný, which was made six years later in 1962. Only in the Andante does her vibrato widen appreciably but she is careful to reserve its optimum usage for the structural high point of the movement – not all violinists are so accommodating, and tend to pour on the vibrato like sauce. Still, Morini’s approach here is one of a confidential passion, not a luscious outpouring. Nothing is overdone and again she doesn’t become theatrical in the last two movements. This is very consonant playing. Morini’s was not a torrid approach and in many ways her art was the antithesis of that of her Russian contemporaries. For that reason, alone perhaps, those coming to her now may feel her somewhat cool and undemonstrative. Hers is a subtle art, however, and Brahms can take any number of well argued approaches.
To finish there are the 1945 Hungarian Dances, taken from an RCA Camden LP which was itself a transfer of the 78 originals. This has also been reissued on Biddulph BID80168 but Biddulph took the 78s direct to transfer. The Biddulph sounds plummier than this Forgotten Records transfer of the RCA Camden LP, but the latter is very bright indeed and needs the treble tamed unless you want Morini’s tone to sound strident and wearying – which it isn’t.
Can I also finally suggest that Morini admirers yet to do so grapple with her legacy preserved by such labels as Arbiter, Music & Arts, Doremi, and Biddulph. It’s well worth tracking these discs down further to celebrate her art. In the meantime, a warm welcome to this disc.
Jonathan Woolf