BRAHMS: Complete Violin Sonatas = Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78; Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100; Violin Sonata No.3 in D Minor, Op. 108 – Stefan Jackiw, violin / Max Levinson, piano – Sony Music Entertainment Korea CREDIA S70397C/88697637692, 70:50 ***1/2:
The three Brahms sonatas are at the very heart of the violinist’s repertoire, so it takes a hearty and very talented soul to issue them as a recorded calling card. Korean violinist Stefan Jackiw (pronounced JACK-eev) seems to fill the bill on both counts. Born in 1985 to physicist parents, he studied at Harvard University and the New England Conservatory before embarking on an international career that has seen him perform with the major orchestras of the world.
The current recording project is an international affair as well, recorded at the Purchase College Performing Arts Center in New York, produced in Korea, and marketed by Sony. The notes are in Korean and English, the booklet lavishly adorned with black-and-white pix of the photogenic Mr. Jackiw. An impressive launch of his recording career.
As to the performances, it’s immediately clear what the buzz is about. Jackiw produces a large, firm, melting tone of great purity and centeredness. Clearly, there is no challenge either technically or interpretatively which Brahms serves up that isn’t met with utter success here. That being said, the performance of the First Sonata is not on a par with the other performances on the disc. Comparing it with one of my reference recordings, Augustin Dumay and Maria João Pires on DGG, I find there is less sugar, more fiber in Dumay-Pires. This is one of Brahms’s most tender and songful creations, based on actual song material. There’s no need to stress the heart-on-sleeve quality of this music, which Jackiw and Levinson tend to do, especially in the first movement. Also, the last movement, marked Allegro molto moderato, seems to want to breathe more than it does with Jackiw-Levinson. The pair rush the music somewhat in its more lyrical passages, thus slighting the contrast with the few stormier passages in the movement.
I have no similar reservations about the other performances on the disc, however. Sonata No. 2, my favorite, is beautifully proportioned and played with just the right blend of lyricism and vigor. Sonata No. 3, as fevered and impetuous as the other two sonatas are sweet and insouciant, is given an appropriately fiery reading; this may be the best performance on the disc. However, here and there I note a strange lack of engagement on the part of the violinist, as if he’s letting sheer beauty of tone carry the day. This mostly seems to occur in the slower music, such as the Andante sections of Sonata No. 2’s slow movement–cum–scherzo.
The sound recording is bright, clean, and airy, the violin a bit more lovingly captured than the piano (just the reverse, interestingly, of the sound picture on the DGG disc I cited above, where Pires’ superb pianism is captured with more warmth).
As an introduction to the work of an artist who’s obviously forging a very bright career, this is a fine disc and worth hearing. However, given the recorded competition from the likes of Perlman, Mutter, Kremer, and Capuçon, it can’t be recommended as a first choice.
— Lee Passarella