Brahms violin sonatas are essential repertoire for any music collection and there have been many fine audio recordings over the years. For the more modern recordings, the Mutter/Weissenberg (1998) and the Perlman/Askhenazy are well worth considering. Perlman fiddles fabulously and in the showy D minor sonata is simply fantastic, though some chamber music purists may find his extroverted playing a bit over the top for the A major and the G major opuses. Older folk (like me) still hold with affection the magical collaborations of Oistrakh with Richter and Suk with Katchen though they do sound a little faded compared with the best of recent sound recordings.
This disc represents Ann-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis in what is without doubt their best collaboration to date, better even than their Mozart cycle. The audio DTS 5.1 is very good and captures the intimate acoustics of the smallish venue well, with the violin and piano in a natural balance ( the picture quality is first class too.) What of the performance?
The concert starts with the A major sonata and indeed this is the shortest and most accessible of the three, with an abundance of fetching melodies on the violin. This is a relaxed and sunny composition (Brahms must have had his best summer vacation that year!), and Mutter makes the most of its sprightly violin theme in the 1st movement and the graceful melody in the adagio 2nd., while Orkis has a simpler time. Next up is the G major opus 78, and here it is evident that the two soloists have given much thought to its interpretation and performance. The opening Vivace movement contains one of the loveliest of melodies and here Mutter waxes lyrical, making her violin sing its heart out, completely vindicating Brahms' genius in violin composition. My favourite movement of the whole set! The adagio is introverted, almost meditative, and the sparse piano accompaniment mainly on the bass notes accentuate the sombreness. The violin still holds centre stage but the sensitive pianism of Orkis enhances the sonata's quiet beauty. I find the atmosphere melancholic but not entirely forlorn for now and again bursts of more optimistic notes break through. I am reminded of sunbursts through gloomy overcast and sudden smiles in the midst of tears. The 3rd. movement, allegro, restores the equanimity somewhat. The mood is calm and serene and the sonata ends on a hushed but hopeful note. What an achingly beautiful piece of work the G major is. The D minor sonata is the last and what a showpiece for the violin this is. Mutter revels in the razzle-dazzle of it all, playing with great aplomb and virtuosity while now as the writing for the piano becomes more complex, Orkis rises to the challenge and the precision give and take is well nigh flawless, in the tradition of chamber music making at its best.
If you love Brahms or the violin or chamber music, you will get a real high from these splendid performances. There are some recordings one simply must have. This is one of them