“Too much beer and bread,” said Paul Dukas about the music of Johannes Brahms, and certainly there have been some who have found the contrapuntal density of the Viennese master an inhibition. It would be a churlish listener, however, who could apply this prejudice to the violin sonatas, packed as they are with gentle lyricism, memorable melody and plenty of fresh air between the notes. These three works, written over a ten-year period, show Brahms at his sunniest and have attracted distinguished interpreters. This latest CD features British violinist Anthony Marwood and his Serbian partner, pianist Aleksandar Madžar, recorded live at London’s Wigmore Hall. The duo recently delighted Australian audiences on their national tour for Musica Viva and so this CD is doubly welcome.
The G Major Sonata here receives one of the loveliest readings I can recall, Marwood’s silvery tone spinning a continuous line with numerous inspired touches. A violinist with a lighter touch yields riches and offers greater flexibility than those who opt for melody at the expense of a more engaging conversational tone. The outer movements capture Brahms’s magical Viennese lilt and the poignant Adagio is especially memorable, its mellow song wistfully tugging at the heart. Madžar here proves a most sensitive partner, each nuance of one perfectly reflected by the other. The melancholy of the finale is less pronounced than in some versions but it gains by highlighting the positive relationship with the first movement and ends in quiet tears rather than tragedy. The serene A Major Sonata also fares well, its more relaxed qualities sitting particularly well with these musicians, who bring out the playfulness of the first movement and make the waltz theme more irresistibly danceable than do most rivals. Marwood’s phrasing is again exquisite in the Andante, while the various colours of the finale are brought richly to the fore. Brahms’s use of song melodies are winningly exploited by the players, whose delicacy frequently highlights the Schubertian qualities in these chamber works.
The D Minor is the most obviously tempestuous of the sonatas and Marwood gives it a fascinating, mercurial reading, yielding in oomph only to those players of the older school for whom a more impassioned approach was the order of the day. In short, these are performances that reflect Brahms’s place in the classical tradition and with plenty of originality and interpretive insights can be ranked alongside the very best.