BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77; String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36 – Isabelle Faust, violin/Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Harding/Julia-Maria Kretz, violin /Stefan Fehlandt, and Pauline Sachse, violas/ Christoph Richter and Xenia Jankovic, cellos – Harmonia mundi HMC 902075, 74:55 ****:
Isabelle Faust and Daniel Harding engage in something of a “revisionist” Brahms Violin Concerto, whose outstanding feature is the use of the 1913 first movement cadenza (with tympani) by Ferruccio Busoni. The pace of the Violin Concerto remains quite brisk and therefore unsentimental, following the guidance of the Joachim annotations. Nevertheless, Faust’s warm tone–courtesy of a “Sleeping Beauty” Stradivarius of 1704–and fastidious attention to pulse and phrase prove both refreshing and authentic, given the driven logic of her interpretation. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra projects clear lines, the intricacies of the woodwinds enjoying particular prominence. After a sweetly honed Adagio, the Rondo truly captures a fiery gypsy bluster, especially effective when we consider that Brahms himself remained reluctant to add “ma non troppo vivace” to the tempo indication.
The 1865 String Sextet in G Major sings a love song to vocalist Agathe von Siebold, for whom Brahms held a powerful infatuation and had composed two sets of lieder, Opp. 14 and 19. In the spirit of Schumann, Brahms made a musical anagram of Agathe’s name and incorporated it as melodic tissue in the work. Rife with intervallic leaps of fourths and fifths, the piece cultivates a large open sound that intertwines within the various movements. A persistent tremolo creates a sense of unease through the first movement, which waves between G Major and E-flat Major, although like Schubert, Brahms indulges in modulations to the mediant or tonic minor. Isabelle Faust and company impart a nostalgic, fluid motion to the first movement, lyrical and melancholy. The Scherzo seems relatively sullen, its 2/4 meter set in a minor mode whose texture and affect hearken to Schumann. The trio does bloom into the light, opting for ¾ and the major mode. Again, the accompaniment patterns indulge in those leaps of fourths and fifths that mark the first movement.
Critic Edward Hanslick once quipped that the third movement Poco adagio sported “variations on no theme.” That the theme resembles the opening of the work and then proceeds to five variants obviously made little impression on Hanslick. There are, however, some quite eerie harmonies that ensue, and the Faust group makes the most of elevating the delicately wry and shadowy contours of the movement into a surreal haze when required. Little canons and layered stretti add to the thickness of the brew, a contrapuntal urge that Brahms will display even more brilliantly in the last movement. Mendelssohn appears to have provided the model for structural procedure, the pulsing melody’s undergoing intense and varied interruptions in a form that combines rondo and sonata in the manner of an impassioned Haydn. The autumnal color of the work makes a fine vehicle for this gifted ensemble whose sound masterfully alternates between a chamber intimacy and a symphonic outburst in the grand style.
— Gary Lemco
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