Recordings aren't especially good at capturing personal charisma, but anyone who has fallen under Sergey Khachatryan's spell in the concert hall comes away almost shaken by his ability to hold an audience in rapt silence for an entire concerto. The Armenian violinist, who is not yet thirty, offers a program of the three Brahms violin sonatas that's totally personal. It's not so much that Khachatryan has novel ideas - this is very familiar music that has been recorded many times - as his style of playing. He makes the violin "speak" and has such a subtle touch that you almost feel that the instruments is "thinking." The result is magical, as if nothing stands between performer and listener, an intimate bond that few violinists, even great ones, can achieve.
Speaking more objectively, Khachatryan's playing is softer, slower, and more inward than anyone else I've heard in the Brahms sonatas, reminding us that in the ten-year span of writing these soulful, melancholy works, Brahms went from the Violin Cto. to the Double Cto., ushering in his autumnal style. In Khachatryan's hands, this music feels like the composer musing to himself on a gently rainy day - the music becomes a tender meditation on Brahms's mortality. Sister Lusine acts as his constant accompanist in recitals, and in the past I've felt that she falls short of her brother's gifts. Here, however, her playing matches his beautifully. Her pianism is the most subdued and subtle I've ever heard in these works.
There will always be room for the more showy and extroverted style of Stern-Barenboim and Perlman-Barenboim, to name my two favorites. And there will be listeners who won't accept Khachatryan's invitation to hear the Brahms sonatas in a completely different, personal way. Everyone else will be drawn in by his magnetic, persuasive musicality.