Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata No. 1 in G major for Violin and Piano, Op. 78 (1879) [25:09]
Sonata No. 2 in A major for Violin and Piano, Op. 100 (1886) [17:59]
Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op.108 (1886-88) [18:34]
Paul Makanowitzky (violin)
Noël Lee (piano)
rec. Paris, 1957-58

Both Forgotten Records and Meloclassic have released a select number of discs performed by violinist Paul Makanowitzky: the former studio inscriptions of long out of print LPs, the latter devoted to broadcasts. This example from FR restores the 1957-58 Brahms Sonatas, with long-term sonata partner Noël Lee, which were made for Lumen (a French label well worth exploring both for its repertoire and also for its artist roster).

Meloclassic’s restorations, which date from the early 1960s, have included live examples of the Opp.78 and 108 sonatas but so far we lack a broadcast of Op.100. The earlier studio cycle amplifies the strengths and sometimes weaknesses to be found elsewhere. The duo is an excellent ensemble, with a good distribution of weight and balance between the two instruments and the Brahms performances are communicative and strongly projected.

Makanowitzky’s taut, fast vibrato is in evidence as ever and the limitations in terms of tonal colour that are a feature of his art make themselves felt from time to time. But his essential machinery is powerful, with an unruffled technique and a propensity to keep rhythms alive sometimes by cutting short phrases. The duo brings out the introspective nature of the Adagio of Op.78 with discretion, Makanowitzky deliberately slowing his vibrato and its oscillation to convey the music’s inherent fragility. For Op.100 the duo takes a fast basic pulse. Whilst this is useful in the pithier moments of the central movement there are examples of clipped phrases that don’t always convince. Overall the approach here is somewhat unsettled and breathless and anyone familiar with the recordings of elite duos such as Goldberg-Balsam, Morini-Pommers, Shumsky-Hambro or Grumiaux-Sebők, to cite just a few of the best-known in this repertoire, will find the Makanowitzky-Lee approach unsympathetic.

Makanowitzky’s vibrato is at its fastest and leanest in Op.108 where he takes a more rapid tempo in the opening movement than was to be the case in the broadcast of 1961. There’s much to be said in favour of the duo’s sensitive phrasing and the dashing approach to both outer movements in particular. Strongly hewn is how I described their broadcast performance and that’s certainly the case here.

The restoration is excellent, with no LP rumble or surface noise audible.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank