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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A totally rewarding 'concert' programme on period instruments, 22 May 2013
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This review is from: Brahms: Horn Trio Op.40; Violin Sonata Op.78; 7 Fantasien Op.116 (Isabelle Faust / Alexander Melnikov / Teunis van der Zwart) (Audio CD)
This well-filled disc at 79 minutes and well recorded in 2008 is an intriguing and rewarding set of performances spanning across a representative selection of Brahms' chamber music. The pieces chosen are taken from his mid to late periods of composing and make for a most enjoyable concert programme. The choice of instruments makes this qualify as a period performance.

The horn trio from Brahms' middle period is an outwardly joyful piece which finds Brahms in ebullient mood. Brahms was adamant that this was to be played on the natural horn without valves even though the valved instrument had been around for some fifty years. The reason for his preference was simply to do with the tonal qualities of the older instrument. This performance, played with consummate skill by Teunis van der Zwart, makes it very clear why Brahms would have such a preference. Indeed, the particular horn used here, with a larger bell than usual, makes a particularly rich and mellow sound eminently suitable for Brahms' sound world. The natural instrument is also capable of playing with plenty of cutting edge but without powerful weight which makes it ideal for such chamber music as it balances with the other instruments so well.

The violin sonata, played on the Stradivarius 'Sleeping Beauty' violin of 1704 and strung with gut strings is also expertly played by Isabelle Faust, much as one would expect from such an experienced and prize winning player. Her set of the Beethoven sonatas with the same pianist, Alexander Melnikov, is worth mentioning here as it too is a notable success. This is the first of three violin sonatas that Brahms wrote towards the end of his life and it has a certain autumnal warmth about it even though the interpretation overall is essentially large scaled and dramatic and displays plenty of energy. Isabelle Faust captures its range of moods perfectly blending the lyrical and dramatic characteristics of the piece.

The piano pieces come from Brahms' final period and are the most overall reflective pieces on this disc. The seven pieces are all short and range from the opening energetic presto Capriccio complimented by the final allegro agitato of the concluding Capriccio with an equally energetic allegro passionato Capriccio in the centre group. Placed between there are 4 intermezzi which are all gentle in character and which give to the whole set that certain autumnal air of reflection mentioned earlier. All of these pieces are played with evident sympathy by Melnikov, Faust's regular accompanist, and for these a Viennese strung Bosendorfer piano from 1875 is used. This has a far more mellow tonal range than a modern grand piano and more of a wooden timbre and with none of the sheer power of a modern Steinway for example. To hear these works played on such a relatively gentle instrument, but one with sufficient power to convey the scale and intent of the music, is both interesting and instructive. It opens a window into the sounds that would have been familiar to Brahms and which he would have had in mind at the time of composing the music.

I would suggest that this disc is fully deserving of serious consideration as a purchase particularly from those with an interest in the sounds that Brahms would have had in mind when composing. It also makes for a most attractive concert-styled programme which, although it may cause problems of doubling within collections, it also has plenty of compensating interest in terms of variety to offer on its own behalf.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Aug 2014 21:15:58 BDT
david says:
Hi Mr Giles
I stumbled into your review, or rather purposefully trod, while searching for Deutsch Harmonia Mundi Brahms recordings from the actual Brahms Haus in Baden Baden. I had just listened to the (SUPERB AUDIOPHILE!!!) DHM double LP from 1971 of the violin sonatas with Jenny Abel on a Guanerius (1723, "del Gesu") with Leonard Hokanson on a Steinway - the piano a bit too forward for my taste, but it works! I thought Abel sounded scratchy...or was it the violin? Anyway, it's a great recording, full of wondrous detail from both parts, ....was looking to see if there was a chamber series from the aforesaid Brahms Haus or whether this was just a one off. From the looks of this CD and your review its seems this type of Brahms niche recording is well established with this company. I see EMI Electrola owned DHM then. Is the present CD Warner Bros? Cheers.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Aug 2014 09:41:05 BDT
I. Giles says:
Hi David, and nice to hear from you again. As always, your comments are full of interesting extra details and considerations , so thanks. My copy of this CD is pure Harmonia Mundi made in Austria and no sign of Warner Bros. I have found all the discs bought of Isabelle Faust to be particularly satisfying. An artist to collect perhaps. I have also added the two Brahms piano concertos / Moravec to my reviews, another artist well worth collecting! Best wishes, Ian.
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