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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a disc that deserves to be considered among the elite, 31 Dec. 2013
I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Op.77, String Sextet No. 2 Op. 36 (Isabelle Faust) (Audio CD)
This disc, first issued in 2011, enters an intensely competitive field as regards the concerto. The sextet coupling is the first, but not the only, distinctive thing to note about this release which as a whole, deserves to be placed among the elite of current choices.

There are two specific attractions to this disc - the unusual choice of the sextet as the coupling and the growing international admiration for Isabelle Faust as one of the most thoughtful and satisfying violinists of her generation. This disc does not disappoint those expectations. Rather it reinforces them.

Starting with the sextet, this is a thoughtfully introspective reading and thus reflects Brahms' apparent state of mind when he wrote it. Brahms, at that time, had previously fallen for a young singer but then rejected her on the grounds that he did not wish to be kept in fetters as he perceived the marital state. This rejection led the young lady to cut off all further communication. Her name. Agatha, is enshrined in the lyrical second theme of the first movement with the sequence of notes A-G-A-D/H-E. (H = B in German notation and D is substituted for the T). Brahms later confided to a friend that with this work 'Here I have freed myself of my last love.'

Bearing those sentiments in mind this reading seems absolutely appropriate and is played with complete assurance. Accurate pitching is difficult for strings when there is no stable pitch to tune to such as a piano. This group of players deliver outstanding security of intonation in addition to a reading of unusual thoughtfulness and that combination makers for a very satisfying coupling for the concerto.

The concerto is something of a revelation in its exposure and use of so many examples of instrumental dialogue between the orchestral players and between them and the soloist. Although this is not a period orchestra, the effect is the same in the added clarity and general definition.

The first movement if relatively fleet and lithe without beginning to match Heifetz for speed. The most controversial thing about the whole reading can be found in this movement as Faust uses her own cadenza which includes a fairly active, but tasteful, timpani part. This is an idea that Beethoven had for the cadenza he supplied for is piano concerto version of his own violin concerto. Isabelle Faust adds in a transition passage for herself and the orchestra to lead to the normal entry point for the orchestra. This does not sound like Brahms but is not offensive.

The second movement is simply sufficiently beautiful at a moderate tempo for no immediate challenge from previous recordings to cross my mind for comparison. Again, the movement is notable for the dialogue between instruments throughout. The last movement, by contrast, sets a scorching tempo within which every increased technical challenge is thrown off with gusto. This is thrilling playing.

As per the heading above, I would suggest that this is a disc that deserves to be considered among the elite. It is certainly of special interest and that is quite some achievement given the current choices.


Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:

Hi, thanks for the interestng review. Have you heard JuLia Fisher's performance of the conceto (Johannes Brahms: Violin and Double Concerto)? I am trying to decide wether I should buy the Fischer or Faust. The Fischer CD includes Brahms' double concerto, a work I am not crazy about. I have the Fischer and Faust CDs of the Dvorak violin concerto, and both peformers are outstanding there. So Fischer or Faust for the Brahms violin concerto? (U.K. review)

Thanks for your response, Ian. I do have the Abbado DVD with Shaham's acclaimed performance, and the Dvorak 9 on this DVD is one of the best I have ever heard, surpassing the Kertesz/LSO, in my opinion. I think I will get both the Fischer and Faust for the Brahms violin concerto. Do you know if F & F have the Mendelssohn and Saint-Saens violin concertos on CD (I have the Fischer Saint-Saens violin & Grieg piano concertos DVD)? (U.K. review)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Brahms Disc, 4 Jun. 2014
Ali Tigrel (Ankara, Turkey) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Op.77, String Sextet No. 2 Op. 36 (Isabelle Faust) (Audio CD)
Having listened to so many performances of this most beatiful romantic concerto, I was wondering how I would rate Faust's rendering against such overwhelmingly tough competition. This CD received somewhat mixed reviews, generally favourable but perhaps not raving. I was interested because Faust's rendering of the Beethoven concerto under the baton of the late Claudio Abbado was stunning. After two hearings, I would say that first, the string sextet is played beatifully, second, the performance of the concerto is fine but not electrifying. Technically, the Brahms concerto is a very challenging work and Faust does a good job of it. Harding's accomponiment is fine. He just lets the music unfold naturally. İn short, a fine disc, worth hearing, but not a first recommendation.
For outstanding performances of the Brahms concerto; try Repin/Chailly, Fischer/Kreizberg, Zneider/Gergiev or Perlman/Barenboim. Difficult to choose if you go for one single recording! For historical greatness try Oistrakh/Klemperer.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What can any modern violinist possibly tell us about this music...?, 13 Mar. 2011
Robert Roy (Edinburgh, Scotland United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Op.77, String Sextet No. 2 Op. 36 (Isabelle Faust) (Audio CD)
Who hasn't recorded the mighty Brahms concerto? Well, for those who have, let's start at the top... Heifetz, Menuhin (more than once - do try to hear the BBC Music magazine cd from the second World War under Boult - VERY moving), Oistrakh (don't bother trying to count...!), Isaac Stern, the great and much under-rated Ida Haendel (my own personal favourite), and... well, add your own master of horse's tail and cow gut!

The amazing thing about this recording (bought as a present for me by my lovely wife!) is that - YES! Isabelle Faust does bring something new to this gastronimical musical feast. Her tempi are a little swifter than we have come to expect from the 'solid' performers of yore which gives new light to Brahms' sometimes dense and, dare one say, robust German writing?

This is the recording I would love to have had as MY first recording of this work. (Since you ask, my introduction was Maurice Hasson and the Halle under James Loughran on CfP. A rare lowlight from their distinguished Brahms cycle from the 1970's). Although Ms. Faust appears to be effortless in her dispatch of this work there is no doubting the power behind her playing.

I can only hope that the coupling will win new friends for the 2 terrific sextets. The op. 18 companion is every bit as rewarding as the op. 36 presented here in this imaginative pairing

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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A modern sensibility steeped in classical values, 16 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Op.77, String Sextet No. 2 Op. 36 (Isabelle Faust) (Audio CD)
German born violinist Isabelle Faust and conductor Daniel Harding, the pairing here in Brahms' famous Violin Concerto Op. 77, belong to the modern school of period-induced playing and conducting. My previous experience with Faust was as violinist on a recording of Brahms chamber music and I last met Harding when he conducted some Beethoven overtures. I liked neither recording as well as I like this classically-rendered version of the concerto.

Faust, who was a Gramophone young artist of the year in 1997 after the release of her first album, built her reputation pursuing chamber music, 20th century and and lesser-known repertory from the likes of Jovilet, Ligeti, Danielpour and the concertos of Michael Jarrell and Thomas Larcher that were dedicated to her. In the intervening years, she has gone on to record famous concertos by Bach, Dvorak and Beethoven.

The Brahms concerto transcends these great works because of its classic lines of construction expressed in musical language from the late romantic period. Brahms built a titanic first movement, followed by a heartfelt and melodious slow movement, and wrapped up the affair with a rondo-dance. While transferring the emotional volatility of late 19th century romance, his classical concerto eschews the excesses of Tchaikovsky and other late romantics.

A virtuoso of the first order playing a 1704 Stradivarius, Faust seems to understand this. With bowing and double stops that match any violinist alive today, she practices virtuosic and emotional restraint while matching her orchestral partners' dramatic sweep and tension in the 20-minute opening movement, then quietly settles into Brahms' self-defined "feeble adagio" before sweeping away listeners with bravura playing in the Hungarian finale.

Using Ferrucio Busoni's first movement cadenza underlined by Harding's timpani, Faust is abetted by Harding and the 14-year-old Mahler Chamber Orchestra -- a modern period ensemble of about 40 players -- in a recording strong on orchestral clarity and power mated to vivid execution with solo work full of expressive character. While the Mahler Chamber Orchestra lacks the weight of a larger ensemble, and some listeners may not like all the sounds the horns make, they carry the argument splendidly in support of the soloist.

There are other versions of this concerto I enjoy -- Kennedy's indulgent version that stretches out the music 45 music and Heifitz's fiery virtuosity chief among them -- but none I know have the combination of expressive playing, clarity in execution and dramatic thrust this one demonstrates.

The significant add-on is Brahms Second Sextet for strings, Op. 36, a piece that projects more the autumnal resignation of his final symphony and Alto Rhapsody than the forward-stepping romance and triumph of the violin concerto. Faust leads from the violin in a reading that is, again, of 21st century sensibility while steeped in the classical (and traditional) values that make Brahms history's No. 4 classical composer behind only Beethoven, Bach and Mozart.

To hear one moment that envelops the sextet's enchanting playing and scintillating interpretation, listen to the way Faust et al handle the first movement's exposition subject on repeat, playing with tenderness and utter sensitivity to the changing moods of the piece, and hardly just playing the music that came a few minutes earlier. Even speeds a point or two faster than the norm do nothing to keep this performance from the first rank.

The CD version of this recording is handsomely packaged in a box, not a plastic case, the opens to a second set of foldouts containing the CD and the removable 42-page booklet. The latter contains an essay from Roman Hinke on the connection between Joseph Joachim and the Brahms concerto as well as three pages from Faust on her impressions of the music and why she chose Busoni's 1913 cadenza. The up close recording was made in Berlin in 2010.

In fine modern sound, Harmonia Mundi has created a 75-minute concert that Brahms lovers, whether wedded to the high cholesterol, big band oeuvre from the likes of Furtwangler, Karajan and Klemperer to the most modern school of playing, can enjoy equally. Only those unjustly averse to period style should avoid this exceptional chamber-sized issue.
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