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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.77 (1878) [39:11]
Double Concerto in A minor, Op.102 (1887) [33:05]
Tianwa Yang (violin)
Gabriel Schwabe (cello)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Antoni Wit
rec. 2017, Jesus-Christus-Kirche Berlin-Dahlem, Germany
NAXOS 8.573772 [72:25]

Why did I ask to review this disc? Two reasons. First: the Double Concerto is one of my all-time favourites. Second: I was, some time ago, knocked out of complacency by the playing of Tianwa Yang. That Naxos have found a long-term home for this violinist has redounded to Naxos’s advantage and to that of the artist. She is an absolutely fantastic player who pretty faultlessly trades in grandeur and in a freshness that keeps renewing. With her there is no stumble and “no shadow of turning”. She has already proved her mettle in other Naxos series: (MendelssohnSaint-SaŽns; Sarasate (review review), Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Lalo/Manťn). On the other hand, on Seen and Heard International there are relatively few notices and she seems never to have played at the BBC Proms - why? Gabriel Schwabe has worked with her before in Saint-SaŽns and he is an intense player, as he has shown in his recording for Naxos of the three Brahms sonatas.

There is no shortage of comparatively so-so recordings of the Brahms string concertos and a few that are highly pointed by the critical world. Perhaps it’s my debilitated and fossilised tastes, but I want some ardour, warmth and radiance from these works especially from the Double Concerto. As I have said elsewhere, the Double is a work for which I have arrived at a very great affection. In Yang’s and Schwabe’s hands it here enjoys an incarnadine reading which benefits from a sweet close-quarters recording. What we hear evinces both concentration and brio. When a performance of the Double really works it communicates a nicely elongated storminess. This is the case here and with CBS-Sony's classic recording by Leonard Rose and Isaac Stern alongside their co-conspirators, the Philadelphia conducted by Eugene Ormandy. The Rose/Stern reading unerringly raises the emotional temperature and should be in every Brahmsian's go-to list despite its super-pepped recording acoustic. Other versions, including some iconic discs, sound pallid by comparison.

Yang makes tense but re-creative work of the Violin Concerto. It’s a work which for me is a step down from the Double. I heard it at my first classical concert played by GyŲrgy Pauk with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paavo Berglund some time in the early 1970s at University Great Hall in Exeter.

Elder statesman Antoni Wit has been facilitating with Naxos for many years. He and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin work in commodious harness with the two soloists.

The notes are by longstanding Naxos regular Keith Anderson and the technical side is handled most musically and with powerful closeness by Clemens Deller and Eckhard Glauche.

This disc, in modern and gripping sound, is a good place to start with Brahms or to continue after you have heard the Third and Fourth symphonies and the Second Piano Concerto.

Rob Barnett

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