Brahms’s two sonatas for clarinet and piano, Op 120, composed in 1894, were followed only by the four Serious Songs and a set of organ chorale preludes (some of which may have been written at earlier times). His farewell to chamber music was also his farewell gift to the clarinet. The two works recorded here were preceded by the Clarinet Trio in A minor (Op 114) and the great Clarinet Quintet in B minor (Op 115), and all four masterpieces were inspired by the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, principal clarinettist of the Meiningen Orchestra.
After titanic contributions to the cello sonata repertoire by Ludwig van Beethoven, few notable additions were made for several decades. Not until 1862 did the cello sonata re-emerge in the hands of Johannes Brahms. His peculiar First Sonata contains only three movements (the Adagio having been omitted for fear of the sonata being too lengthy) and a finale that all but defies formal analysis. Almost a quarter century passed before Brahms again returned to the cello sonata, this time in the key of F major. The second sonata is considerably more challenging for cellists and Brahms' treatment of the instrument is not the exclusively lyrical, sonorous melodies that one might expect. Rather, Brahms incorporates lots of rhythmic, motivic playing and pizzicato passages and rapid bariolage. A "third" cello sonata, which has become increasingly popular in recent years, is Paul Klengel's (whose cello-playing father was much admired by Brahms) transcription of the G major Violin Sonata.
This recording presents the CD debut on Brilliant Classics of the Gutman Trio, named after Natalia Gutman, world famous cellist, one of the few surviving of the generation of 20th century soviet musicians, like Richter, Gilels, Kogan, Kagan, Rostropovich and Oistrakh. For their debut CD they chose two of the cornerstones of the romantic piano trio repertoire, the first and third piano trio by Brahms. The first trio Op. 8 is a gorgeous work from Brahms' early years, brimming with youthful passion and vitality; the third trio is in C minor mood, dark, grim and powerful.
Following his recent dazzling Liszt recital (CDA67085), Stephen Hough turns his attention to the finest works of the young Brahms. Brahms's three piano sonatas are early works, culminating with the epic F minor Sonata. Spanning five movements, with dramatic and wildly virtuosic outer movements, and a hauntingly beautiful slow movement (described by Claudio Arrau as "the greatest love music after Tristan, and the most erotic"), this is one of the defining piano sonatas of the mid-nineteenth century.
This Zimerman recording of the Brahms Piano Concerto no. 1 may have received some critical lambasting when it was originally released. However, despite this, I find that this recording is unjustly underrated because in its own special way it plumbs the depths of Brahms' heart and soul. Zimerman, although he recorded this in his late-twenties, interprets the solo part with insight, and does not go over-the-top with pianistic pyrotechnics, as most other pianists tend to do. Bernstein leads the Viennese musicians in a sympathetic accompaniment that serves as a perfect foil to Zimerman's parts and allows him to integrate into the orchestral texture. And the DG recording, although not entirely clear, is characterised by the atmosphere and bloom of the Vienna Musikverein, despite the extreme forward balance of the piano.
Although very much a composer from the Romantic Period, the music of Brahms tended to be very strict in term of its observence of Classical form. The first movement of this Cello Sonata illustrates this with its beautifully constructed sonata form. Here is the Full Score of this work, plus the individual parts for Cello and Piano.
In the age of Argerich, who brings tightrope-walker tension to chamber music, I doubt that anyone plays the Brahms piano trios with the kind of mellow lushness heard here. Katchen's conception of Brahms was large-scaled but smooth, warm without much psychological struggle. Suk was a honey-toned violinist, and although Starker was the modernist among the three, what's notable here is how perfectly in unison he is with Suk (and blissfully in tune). Decca puts the piano in the middle and the string players close up in their own channels left and right. The result is wide-screen and artificial, of course, since it makes the cello sound as loud as the piano. but the sonic effect is quite luscious.
I've saved my remarks about te interpretations for last. The Brahms trios have attracted great collaborations, and I wouldn't place this one above, say, Istomin-Stern-Rose although it runs ahead of the Beaux Art Trio, for sheer beauty of tone if nothing else. The shortcoming here is a tendency toward cautiousness; these are middle-of-the-road readings that don't capture Brahms' deepest passions. He is placed in the sun too often. But the first two trios aren't sturm and drang works. If you want large-scale performances caught in gorgeous sound, here you go.
–Amazon.com [4 stars] reviewer