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Znaider and Bronfman in Brahms

Available at Amazon:
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Brahms, Complete Works for Violin and Piano, N. Znaider, Y. Bronfman
(April 24, 2007)

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Sonata No. 1 (G major, op. 78, "Regen")

Sonata No. 2 (A major, op. 100, "Thun")

Sonata No. 3 (D minor, op. 108)
Jens has reviewed Nikolaj Znaider's 2005 recording of the Mendelssohn and Beethoven violin concerti, as well as his live performance of the Bruch concerto with the National Symphony around the same time. Znaider is back in Washington this fall, playing the Beethoven concerto with the NSO, in a keenly anticipated concert with principal guest conductor Iván Fischer (November 1 to 3). While the Brahms string quartets (reviewed yesterday) may not be favorite works, the Brahms violin sonatas are all exquisite (with four younger drafts in the genre again abandoned by Brahms). This is the second worthy recording of the entire set featuring a leading young violinist, after the 2005 CD by Nicholas Angelich and Renaud Capuçon on Virgin Classics (now greatly reduced in price on Amazon). As suave and leisurely as Znaider's tone (he plays the Stradivarius "ex-Liebig" from 1704) and pacing are, he and Yefim Bronfman still lay down the same program as Angelich-Capuçon -- the three sonatas and the scherzo movement that Brahms contributed to the so-called F-A-E sonata -- in about eight minutes less.

The Znaider-Bronfman recording hooked me with its first track, which opens with the most lilting, urbane, understated reading of the main theme of no. 1's first movement. Although initially hardly Vivace, even with the ma non troppo appended, it perfectly captures the bittersweet melancholy of the score. This sonata is named the "Regen" or Rain sonata, because the rondo theme of the last movement is related to Brahms's own song Regenlied (the third in the op. 59 set of Acht Lieder und Gesänge, from 1873). Klaus Groth's poem in sing-songy octosyllabic lines in paired rhymes evokes a powerful memory, half delight and half sadness, of the narrator's childhood love of dancing in the rain. Reading the poem, thanks to Emily Ezust's edition and translation, helps one understand the nostalgic self-containment of this performance.

The second sonata is named for Switzerland's Thunersee, where Brahms was on vacation in the summer of 1886 when he composed this and several other works. It is is more concise than no. 1 and positively bucolic in tone (the tempo indications alone make it clear, with words like amabile, tranquillo, and grazioso). All of those qualities come across in Znaider and Bronfman's rendition, especially in the murmuringly peaceful middle movement, with its main theme like a breeze-cooled lakeside nap. In the second sonata Brahms also refers to one of his own songs, taking the first movement's B theme from Wie Melodien zieht es mir, a poem again by Klaus Groth, who was a close friend of Brahms. (Clearly, I am going to have to acquire Groth's 1854 collection Hundert Blätter: Paralipomena zum Quickborn, if it has been translated into English. There are a few of his Plattdeutsch poems here, with translations by Reinhard F. Hahn in Seattle.)

This reading of the third sonata has a luscious Adagio second movement and a percolating third movement, one of the most concise and pleasing scherzos. Again, reading the Groth poem helps illuminate much of what Brahms was trying to capture, the sense of an image in the mind that disappears or fades like a half-forgotten melody. As lagniappe, there is an excellent reading of the scherzo movement that Brahms contributed to the Sonata "F-A-E" (conceived with Robert Schumann and Albert Dietrich as a tribute to Joseph Joachim), here a driving five minutes of rhythmic delight. We last heard it live earlier this year, as a vivid encore from Leila Josefowicz.

RCA Red Seal (Sony BMG) 88697-06106-2

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