Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in G major Op.78 [25:09]
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major Op.100 [17:39]
Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor Op.108 [18:34]
Paul Makanowitzky (violin) NoŽl Lee (piano)
rec. 1957-58 FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR195 [61:45]
It was for the French Lumen label that Paul Makanowitzky and NoŽl Lee set down complete cycles of both JS Bach’s and Beethoven’s violin and piano sonatas. These have been reissued in a 4 CD set by Doremi (DHR-7946). To complete the ‘Bs’ trilogy, here are the three Brahms Sonatas they also recorded for Lumen in the late 1950s. Makanowitzky’s ten-year duo partnership with the American pianist and composer NoŽl Lee lasted from 1954 to 1964, and it was described by one American critic as ‘The best ensemble playing to be found anywhere in the world’. Both had studied with the great French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, who taught them to respect the music and the composer’s intentions.
Paul Makanowitzky was born in Stockholm in 1920, and was a protťgť of Ivan Galamian, Jacques Thibaud and Nadia Boulanger in Paris, where the family had moved in 1924. He made his performing debut in 1929 at the Salle Gaveau, and his New York debut in 1937. Though a Swedish citizen, in 1942 he volunteered to fight in World War II for the United States. He acted as a gunner in B-24s, bombing Eastern Europe from bases in Italy. After parachuting out of his burning aircraft, he was held a prisoner of war in Romania for six months. His solo career resumed after the war until 1967 when he retired from the concert platform to go into full-time teaching. The year previously he had begun teaching at the Juilliard School, and Meadowmount School of Music, as Ivan Galamian’s first assistant. Together they reared the talents of the young Perlman, Zukerman and Kyung-Wha Chung. Four years later he accepted a post at the University of Michigan, where he remained for thirteen years, adding some conducting to his schedule. In 1983, he retired to France, and died in 1993 in the States.
The fruits of Brahms’ maturity, the three sonatas embody emotional richness and vision. The First Sonata in G major is melodically generous and Makanowitzky and Lee shape the lyrical lines in a compelling and natural way, allowing the music to breathe. The slow movement is heartfelt, and the finale is noble and fervid. A slightly later recording from March 1963 of the Sonata, which the pair recorded live, exists on a Meloclassic release (MC2025) which I reviewed last year. The affable and sunny A major Op.100 is the least successful of the performances here. I find it a rather damp squib, unsmiling and less engaged than its companions. The Third Sonata is more technically challenging than its predecessors. Cast in four movements rather than three and larger in scale, it pleads for dramatic intensity. The duo address the stormy narrative with determination and vigour, getting fully to grips with its cumulative sweep. In fact, of the three sonata performances, I felt that this one pays the most dividends. It’s a pity the duo didn’t record the F-A-E sonata scherzo Brahms contributed to a joint 1853 venture; it would have been the icing on the cake.
Although his fast, unvaried vibrato does limit his colourist palette to some extent, Makanowitzky draws a rich, sonorous and burnished tone and intonation is always pure. Portamenti don’t play a major role in his playing.
The Lumen LP transfers are much refreshed by Forgotten Records expert re-masterings. To get a taster of this inspired duo at work, there’s a 7 minute filmed excerpt of them performing the opening movement of Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ sonata on Youtube, and even in this short extract you detect a tangible rapport and electricity between them.