Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata no. 3 for violin and piano in D minor, op. 108 (1888) [19:28]
Cesar FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata in A major for violin and piano (1886) [26:11]
Patrycja Piekutowska (violin); Anna Miernik (piano)
rec. May, 2014, European Krzysztof Penderecki Centre for Music, Poland. DDD
DUX 1128 [45:39]
Patrycja Piekutowska is a former student of Tadeusz Gadzina and Igor Oistrakh. As well as this pair of sonatas by Brahms and Franck, she has recorded a great deal of music by Polish composers such as Penderecki (review), Bacewicz, Szymanowski and Lutoslawski (review). It is obvious from even such a brief biographical sketch that she is a considerably-equipped player, something that is apparent from the first few bars of this recording. So how does this disc match up to the fierce competition it faces?

The Brahms impresses from the rather introverted opening phrase as a serious interpretation. Piekutowska's tone production is silvery rather than warm, and a touch hard at anything above forte on the E string. I found myself wanting more variation of bow weight than was on offer. She makes up for these niggles in the slow movement, however, in which she produces a lush sound from the G string and beautifully clean double-stopping. The Un poco presto, although full of feeling, is one of Brahms' more veiled movements, emotionally. I didn't feel that Piekutowska was quite across the nuances of this music. She launches the finale in an impassioned style, which I enjoyed, but the bowing in the development section struck me as a bit hefty. Anna Miernik was mostly restrained in the piano part, but gives her playing some well-judged weight from time to time. Albeit that the violin has most of the melodic material, this is a true duo sonata, and Miernik does much more than just accompanying her partner. She is well balanced with Piekutowska, the sound being natural and fairly full.

For comparison I played the Hungarian violinist Gyorgy Pauk's recording with Roger Vignoles. Their recording of the three violin sonatas is part of the Brilliant Classics box set of the complete Brahms chamber music (review). As with most Brahms sets, they fit all three on one disc. The length of their partnership comes across in the conversational style of playing, and the unforced way in which the music unfolds. Pauk brings more tonal warmth and variety of bow pressure to his phrasing than Piekutowska, and the sense of discovery is also palpable.

The Cesar Franck sonata I thought more successful; Piekutowska brings more variety to her bowing and delineates the long phrases with sensitivity. The tempo is steady throughout, rather too much to give this most romantic of sonatas any real sense of abandon. The slow movement takes off somewhat in the middle section with some nicely shaded tone and carefully built phrases. There is a mood of contained exaltation in the finale. Overall, however, I felt the music was being too carefully managed to permit much emotional involvement, an impression I had also in the Brahms.

Arthur Grumiaux's recording of the Franck features rapt phrasing and constant subtle dynamic variation (review). The aristocratic Belgian player avoids major disturbances to the pulse of the slow movement, but brings a controlled ardency to the playing that suits the emotional fullness of the work. Heifetz also coupled this work with the Brahms op. 108, the latter in a memorable duo with William Kapell. The Naxos disc (review) on which this work is available also includes a Franck sonata with Rubinstein, and a good Kreutzer sonata with Moiseiwitsch. That Piekutowska's playing can be judged by these standards says a lot for her, and I would like to hear her in the contemporary repertoire that she has recorded. Unfortunately I don't think she is quite there as far as these sonatas go. This disc is well recorded, but the short playing time and the somewhat over-managed interpretations make it unrecommendable.

Guy Aron

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