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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Johannes Brahms, "Violin Sonatas, Opp. 78, 100, 108"

Johannes Brahms
"Violin Sonatas, Opp. 78, 100, 108"
Decca (1967)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die

I have constantly commented during our looks at Brahms— with the addendum that I may be too unfamiliar with classical music to recognize the essential and minute details —that I find him to be rather conservative. I don't know what I should be expecting, but I just don't hear the 'oomph' present in Beethoven, nor the range of moods we heard in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. The composer's three violin sonatas offer a more diverse view of his tastes however, at least certainly in comparison to his sonatas for cello.
The most striking is the second movement of his Violin Sonata no. 2 in A Major. Titled "Andante tranquillo-Vivace-Andante-Vivace di piĆ¹-Andante-Vivace," it's easy to tell that the guy is cramming a lot of parts into one roughly seven-minute piece of music. The opening andante travels at a moderate pace, carrying the pleasant themes of the opening movement. "Vivace," as its name implies (to all you Romance language readers out there), is an especially ebullient movement, so much so that it almost seems like comic relief compared the andantes. Brahms was reportedly in a good mood at the time of Sonata no. 2, and it shows.

Although no. 2 is interesting for its shocking revelations regarding Brahms' personality (to us noobs, at least), Sonata no. 1 in G Major best displays his range as a composer, following a singular theme. The theme set by the piano in opening movement, "Vivace ma non troppo," evokes the sound of rainfall, and hence the piece has become known as the "Rain Sonata." The official title only includes "G Major" because that's the key that the first movement follows. By the time Brahms reaches movement three, "Allegro molt moderato," the sonata is in G minor, drastically changing the mood of the piece. The theme of rainfall is present throughout: What begins as a gentle shower in the form of quiet, twinkling keys becomes an angrier storm, based on the volume of performer Julius Katchen.

I'm somewhat stealing Tom Moon's point in this paragraph, but most of his entry on this album was dedicated to praising the chemistry of Katchen and violinist Josef Suk. The form presented on this record is the "violin sonata," and traditionally the titular instrument serves as the main attraction. Brahms takes a more balanced approach to the form however, even labeling Sonata no. 2 as being for "piano and violin"— the placement of piano at the fore indicating the instrument's importance in the piece.

So far, from the Brahms I've listened to, I find his violin sonatas the most enjoyable. The range and themes used in these compositions make them one part of the Brahms repertoire that even a rookie like me can appreciate right off.

INTERESTING FACT: Pianist Julius Katchen, a renowned performer of Brahms, was also just totally awesome. One tidbit we found: He and his wife were collectors of netsuke, a practical Japanese sculpture that men used to anchor small storage baskets on their belts. His collection was sold at auction in 2005-'06 for $2.2 million dollars.

Sonata for Violin & Piano No. 2 in A major ('Thun'), Op. 100: Andante tranquillo, Vivace by Daniel Barenboim & Itzhak Perlman on Grooveshark

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