Brahms: The Violin Sonatas - Suk and Katchen
Johannes Brahms was very much aware that in certain spheres of music he would be measured against his predecessors Mozart and, especially, Beethoven. And so, although he counted the Hungarian violinist's Eduard Reményi and Joseph Joachim among his associates, and the latter was one of his dearest friends, he waited a long time before publishing a violin sonata which he and others performed from the manuscript; and up to four more may have been discarded before he finally let Joachim have the G major Sonata, Op. 78, in 1879.
These Brahms recordings represent one of those series of sessions in which everything goes right. The tall, strong Suk with his big songful tone made an ideal foil for the powerful Katchen, and the two men were stimulated to give of their best: although of the same generation, they came from such differing backgrounds that each had much to offer the other. The performances have not been surpassed and are unlikely to be bettered, although they may be equaled. The American pianist and the Bohemian violinist find all the necessary lyricism and tonal color for the first two sonatas and they rise effortlessly to the challenges of the third.
These recordings are the best that have been captured to date and most likely be never surpassed in the future.
The Violin Sonata No. 1 in G major, Op. 78, for violin and piano was composed by Johannes Brahms during the summers of 1878 and 1879 in Pörtschach am Wörthersee. It was first performed on 8 November 1879 in Bonn. Each of three movements of this sonata shares common motivic ideas or thematic materials from the head-motif of Brahms's two songs "Regenlied" and "Nachklang", Op. 59, and this is why this sonata is also called Rain Sonata (Regen-Sonate).
This sonata consists of three movements. The first movement, Vivace ma non troppo is written in sonata form in G major; the second movement, Adagio - Più andante - Adagio, is an expanded ternary form in E♭ major, and the third movement, Allegro molto moderato is a rondo in G minor with coda in G major. The dotted rhythm motif from the two songs is not only directly quoted as a leading theme in the third movement of this sonata but also constantly appearing as fragmented rhythmic motif throughout the all three movements of the sonata so that the entire sonata has a certain coherency. The rhythm of the rain motif appearing in the middle section of the second movement is adapted to a funeral march. The two disruptive appearances of the main theme of the Adagio in the third movement also represent cyclic form used in this sonata.
Johannes Brahms [1833-1897]
Violin Sonata No.1 in G major, Op. 78
1. Vivace ma non Troppo 10:13
2. Adagio 7:54
3. Allegro molto moderata 8:08
The Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100 ("Thun" or "Meistersinger") by Johannes Brahms was written while spending the summer of 1886 in Thun in the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland.
It was a very fertile and refreshing time for Brahms. His friend the Swiss pastor and poet Josef Victor Widmann (1842-1911) lived in Berne and they visited each other. He was also visited by the poet Klaus Groth and the young German contralto Hermine Spies. Both Groth and Brahms were somewhat enamoured of Spies. He found himself so invigorated by the genial atmosphere and surroundings that he said the area was "so full of melodies that one has to be careful not to step on any". In a short space of time, he produced, in addition to this violin sonata, the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99, the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, and various songs.
The 2nd Violin Sonata is the shortest and is considered the most lyrical of Brahms's three violin sonatas. It is also considered the most difficult of the three to bring off successfully, and to exhibit its balance of lyricism and virtuosity. It maintains a radiant, happy mood throughout.
It consists of three movements, with the middle movement doing service as both a slow movement and a scherzo:
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100
1. Allegro amabile 8:27
2. Andante tranquillo - Vivace - Andante - Vivace di più - Andante - Vivace 6:43
3. Allegretto grazioso (quasi andante) 5:26
Johannes Brahms' Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108 is the last of his violin sonatas, composed between 1878 and 1888. Unlike the two previous violin sonatas, it is in four movements (the others are in three movements). The sonata is dedicated to Brahms' friend and colleague Hans von Bülow, and was premiered in Budapest in 1888 with Jenő Hubay on violin and the composer at the piano.
1 First movement: Allegro 7:39
2 Second movement: Adagio 4:59
3 Third movement: Un poco presto e con sentimento 2:49
4 Fourth movement: Presto agitato 5:58
℗ Decca Music Group Limited
First movement: Allegro
The first movement is in traditional sonata-allegro form. The first subject, a long, lyrical cantabile line in D minor, is stated sotto voce by the violin with the piano providing a simple accompaniment; off-beats in the right hand provide a quietly agitated character. Immediately after the violin's closing cadence ends the first statement of the first subject, the subject is taken up by the piano, subito forte and with a virtuosic, heroic character; now it is the violin's turn to provide an accompaniment, again in syncopated rhythm. The second subject, a romantic, expressive melody in F major, is then stated by the piano alone, and repeated by the violin with a simple arpeggiated piano accompaniment. Next comes the development section: the violin plays a variant of the first subject elaborated with bariolage bowing, while the piano again provides the accompaniment in the right hand. Of particular interest in this section is the pedal point on the dominant (A) which the pianist sustains in the left hand for the entire duration of the development section. The recapitulation begins with the violin restating the first subject as in the beginning but an octave lower, the piano plays an elaborated version of the original accompanying figure. After the final cadence of the subject, three sudden unison chords announce, subito forte, an unexpected direct modulation into F-sharp minor. In the ensuing section, of virtuosic and symphonic character, violin and piano toss back and forth fragments of the original theme. After a direct modulation back to D minor, the recapitulation resumes its course, and then the second subject is restated in D major. Once more back into D minor and the first subject makes one more appearance in the violin, in the original octave, accompanied by the original figure in the piano. There is a brief sotto voce return to the elaborated material of the development section which then passes through a series of modulations. One final sostenuto statement of the first subject across three octaves leads to a cadence in D major, which leads directly into the second movement.
Second movement: Adagio
The second movement, in D major, is a gentle and lyrical cavatina for the violin, with the piano reduced to the role of accompanist throughout. The character is romantic and nostalgic, with the 3/8 meter creating a slow waltz-like rhythm. The melody is stated espressivo by the violin in the mid-lower register and proceeds in a calm, introspective character until a sudden two-measure modulation and crescendo lead to an impassioned climax, played in double stop thirds by the violin. Following a brief interlude the melody is stated again an octave higher and with a somewhat less restrained character--it bears the characteristic Brahmsian marking "poco forte" (literally "a bit strong.") This time the modulation takes a different turn and the climactic theme is stated a fourth higher than before, in C Lydian Dominant. As the melodic line descends and arrives back in D major, rather than playing a simple cadence the violin suddenly takes off on a rhapsodic, improvisatory arpeggiation through D major and finally reaches the triumphant third statement of the climactic theme, a third above its previous appearance and this time still in the home key of D major. A brief echo of the opening theme then leads to a final, subdued cadence.
Third movement: Un poco presto e con sentimento
In contrast to the second movement, in the third movement it is the piano that takes center stage. The piano states the main theme, a stammering, uneasy scherzando in F-sharp minor, with the violin providing a simple accompaniment on off-beats, interspersed with brief melodic fragments. The second statement of the theme is taken by the violin, with the melodic fragments from the violin's previous accompanying figures becoming part of the melody itself. The violin then interrupts the proceedings and comes fully into the spotlight with an impassioned, rhapsodic outburst elaborated by virtuosic arpeggios, which ends with a forceful series of chords. The same material is presented again in D minor immediately thereafter. A modulation back to F-sharp minor leads into a recapitulation of the original material. The piano again states the main theme, sotto voce, while the violin accompanies with pizzicato thirds. A brief coda leads to an understated ending.
Fourth movement: Presto agitato
The fourth and final movement returns to the sonata's home key of D minor. It is the most virtuosic of all four movements, and the frenzied, passionate character, along with the meter of 6/8, are suggestive of a tarantella. The structure is similar to the first movement, with two contrasting subjects linked together by interludes of melodic fragments and modulations. After a four-measure introduction in which the piano states the beginning of the first subject accompanied by the violin with a virtuosic series of broken chords, the two instruments switch roles and the violin states the first subject in its entirety, a lyrical but stormy, impassioned melody, accompanied in the piano by the same broken-chord figure originally seen in the violin. The second part of the first subject is a nervous, stammering series of melodic fragments, full of sharp dynamic contrasts. The piano then states, unaccompanied, the second subject. This is an elegant, stately and calm melody, played simply and straightforwardly. The violin then plays the melody and the piano adds some syncopated rhythms to the accompaniment, bringing back an echo of the movement's overall agitated character. Soon enough, right as the violin finishes playing the melody, the development section begins with tarantella material in the piano, played pianissimo and una corda. The violin echoes the piano, and the piece moves through several modulations. A brief restatement of the first subject then ensues, followed by a remarkable interlude: the piano plays a stripped-bare, simplified version of the first subject pianissimo in the slower tempo of the second subjet, accompanied by a chromatic, understated syncopated figure in the violin. It builds to a climactic restatement of the beginning of the first subject in F minor, which then leads into a virtuosic development of the tarantella-like material of the first subject. After a return to the second part of the first subject, the second subject is restated in F major, again unaccompanied in the piano, and then again taken up by the violin. As in the exposition, it leads directly into a recapitulation of the first subject material. A full-blown return to the first subject leads to a thundering conclusion.
Josef Suk - violin
Julius Katchen - piano
Josef Suk (August 8, 1928 - July 11, 2011) made his considerable reputation through a conscientious approach to the masters, a keen appreciation for Czech music, and a musical imagination of the first order. Grandson of Josef Suk (the composer and member of the Bohemian String Quartet) and great-grandson of Antonín Dvořák, the violinist amassed an extensive catalog of recordings and traveled to most of the world's major concert halls. Despite the acclaim he achieved as a soloist, Suk remained a devoted proponent of chamber music and led his own chamber orchestra in distinguished performances and recordings. All of the outstanding lyrical beauty, heart, soul, passion, pathos and joy of these chamber works is here, distilled into this disc for your enjoyment. During his life, Josef Suk, III, had the best and the greatest variety of tone color, the best natural phrasing with deepest feeling for the musical structure, than anyone that I've heard play the violin. This CD brings, to the ears, a very good example of why he was the best.
For those who wish to hear some very beautiful rarely performed relaxing and soothing violin/piano chamber music, you'll be rewarded with these recordings. Josef Suk, III (1928-2011) was noted as playing some of the rarest violins such as rare instruments built by Antonio Stradivari (1729), Giuseppe Guarneri "Del Gesu" (1744) and Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1758), but he also plays his 1961 violin made by the great Czech luthier Premysl Spidlen giving this recoding a truly unique sound in some of the later performances. Suk's repertoire had numerous constants to which he repeatedly returned, with the center of gravity being Classicist and Romantic pieces. Suk, nevertheless, explored and performed in public on only a few occasions a number of compositions. His recordings contain cornerstones of the Czech and international repertoire, as well as works seldom performed today. There is a distinct sound, style, and timbre to Suk's playing. It has been described using such phrases as "the most velvety bow' and "pure and rhythmically bracing play," and above all lauded his "impeccable beauty of tone." These phrases clue the listener, but your ears will truly enjoy what is heard, as these delicate, heavenly, ardent and noble sounds begin an aural feast.
Julius Katchen(August 15, 1926 - April 29, 1969) an American concert pianist, possibly best known for his recordings of Johannes Brahms's solo piano compositions. A six-disc set of Johannes Brahms's Works for Solo Piano (Decca) is highly regarded and often cited as one of the best available recordings of Brahms's piano music.
This is a Decca Music Group Limited recording with a SPARS Code: ADD stereo, recorded in the mellow acoustics in the Kingsway Hall, London in March 1967, now, alas, gone forever. This Decca Legends performance is oriented mainly toward the publication of classical music, with the emphasis on artists performing benchmark performances. Significant domestic and foreign soloists, chamber ensembles, orchestras, and conductors all contributed to its collection of recordings. Just listening to these recordings, playing back through my 7.1 Blu-ray A/V system, I found the music is very pleasant, structured well and exhibit true tonal colors of the instruments. The spatial dimension is very good as you can place the position of violin and piano, along the depth of the music gives the listener a full-bodied sound. The sound quality is excellent with genuine reproduction with precise depth gradation, original dynamics, and natural tonal colors. It feels as though you are at a live performance as the spatial dimension is that precise with excellent vividly real artistic performances. At first you may think they are simple melodies in the music, but upon listening several times, you begin to hear the complexities and the nuances within the music itself and they blend together well. The timbre and the sonority of the violin and piano are well-cast and appropriate. Interestingly this disc is very well-engineered as the overall sound from the disc is indistinguishable from a live performance. You will be pleased at the overall quality of these recordings. Care has been taken to preserve these recordings in a digital format using Decca's super digital transfer of 96 kHz 24-bit. The CD is made in Germany.
These recordings are truly excellent examples of a true master playing the music as intended for the world to be heard, using excellent accompaniment, these are what an audiophile would seek as reference.
Total time of this CD: 68:15