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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata No. 1 in G major for Violin and Piano, Op. 78 (1879) [26:35]
Sonata No. 2 in A major for Violin and Piano, Op. 100 (1886) [19:51]
Sonata No. 3 in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 108 (1886-88) [20:31]
Scherzo in C minor, WoO2 (from the F-A-E Sonata) (1853) [5:23]
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
Lars Vogt (piano)
rec. August 2015, Sendesaal Bremen
ONDINE ODE1284-2 [72:50]

This is not the first time that Tetzlaff and Vogt have recorded the cycle of Brahms sonatas. Back in 2002, they were taped live at the Heimbach Chamber Music Festival; that appeared on EMI 5 575252.Their return to the repertoire 14 years later in the Sendesaal Bremen is a point addressed in the booklet’s Q&A. The written interlocutor is Friederike Westerhaus, whose opening question addresses this very point. The answer is that they are now a closer duo and allow themselves a different kind of freedom.

They certainly take a leisurely, quite expansive view of the opening of the G major sonata, in which ma non troppo is the operative phrase. But Tetzlaff incrementally broadens his tone, generating expressive romanticism, and the depth of Vogt’s tone – the treble to my ears just a touch over-bright – equally reveals cogent thinking. Their approach in this movement is certainly not as unhurried as Dumay and Lortie’s beautiful recording, which is slow throughout the sonatas. Unlike Dumay, though, Tetzlaff is not afraid to fine and indeed bleach his tone almost free of vibrato in the pursuit of the ultimate in characterisation. This duo is good at the play of rhythmic pointing and ruminative lyricism, so vital in this sonata’s central movement. Whilst the finale’s tempo is again relaxed, the music-making, with wide dynamics, remains affirmative, lyrical and intimate.

The sense of hesitant coaxing in the A major sonata offers another example of the level of characterisation that the two musicians find in the music. Their responses are in no sense generic; they dig deep. So, the piano’s hesitancies, and the violin’s fragility of tone – but not of line – chart a powerful sense of development, almost a Brahmsian psycho-biography in musical form. The narrative from hesitance to definitive triumph is just one element that intrigues in this duo’s performances of the sonatas. One feels that they pay real attention to the meaning behind the notes. In the D minor sonata, the sense of gleaming confidence at the start of the most ironically troubled of the sonatas alerts the listener to the buffets to come. It is by the use of subtle tonal variation that Tetzlaff – who has neither an especially variegated nor large tone – makes his most musical points. Vogt is never metrical or routine. The sinewy approach to the Scherzo from the F-A-E Sonata is balanced by the burnished oasis to be found in its B section.

Apart from that slightly bright piano treble, the recording is very well judged. These are thought-provoking and scrupulously intelligent performances.

Jonathan Woolf



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