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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata No 1 in G major, Op 78 (1878) [26:32]
Sonata No 3 in D minor, Op 108 (1888) [21:16]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) - Albert DIETRICH (1829-1908) - Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
F.A.E. Sonata (1853) [26:36]
Jana Vonášková-Nováková (violin)
Irina Kondratenko (piano)
rec. September-October 2013, Martínek Studio, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU 4170-2 [74:41]

Jana Vonášková-Nováková is well known for her near-decade membership of the Smetana Trio, a role she gave up in 2012. For this Brahms disc she is paired with Latvian-born, but Czech-resident Irina Kondratenko. They have collectively taken the stimulating decision to dispense with a conventional three sonata recital and instead omit the Second and substitute the complete F.A.E. sonata. Immediately this will divide potential purchasers who will possibly regret the opportunity not to be able to hear all three numbered works from a single point of view. Yet the F.A.E is not so commonplace on disc that it should be overlooked here. If one takes the view that competition on disc in the sonatas is exceptionally difficult, then the inclusion of the composite 1853 work could be taken as a bold move.
 
The success or otherwise of its inclusion depends on the performances as a whole. This duo is young but already exceptionally experienced, and their ensemble sounds excellent. The First Sonata is not unconscionably slow but does have a sense of melancholy portentousness that possibly makes it seem slightly slower than it actually is. This is a valid characterisation if it’s carried through with confidence, and it is. The violinist is careful to subordinate her accompanying figures in the first movement and widens her vibrato noticeably in the second. In the finale both players pick up on the nerviness of the writing, aligning it explicitly with the opening Vivace in that respect. The demerit is that the finale never truly relaxes, and is constantly buffeted by the duo’s incessant, quite high-octane playing.
 
Op.108 receives an intelligent, thoughtful and occasionally withdrawn reading – in the sense of the character of the music being autumnal. There’s a sweetness and a sense of tristesse about the slow movement and the sense of dynamism inherent in the presto agitato finale. Though her tone doesn’t sound especially big, Vonášková-Nováková captures a considerable amount of the tempestuousness here, abetted by the fine pianism of Kondratenko. In the F.A.E. I rather prefer, in all movements, the more phrasally idiomatic and suggestive playing of Franco Gulli with pianist Enrica Cavallo [Dynamic CDS7693]. Things are shaped more warmly and Gulli’s tone has more allure. That push-pull rhythm in Schumann’s Romanze second movement comes over better with Gulli, and in the Brahms Scherzo he is the more purposeful. This is not to suggest at all that the Czech performance is a poor one, but I think Gulli had lived with his interpretation longer and it shows.
 
There are however fine things in this Supraphon disc, not least a detailed, well-balanced recording in the Martínek Studio, Prague - it’s just that in the end, perhaps not quite enough for wholehearted praise.
 
Jonathan Woolf