BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78; Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100; BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 3 in d minor, Op. 108 – Georg Kulenkampff, v./ Georg Solti, p. – Pristine Audio PACM 100, 66:33 [avail. in several formats from] ****: 

In my conversation with the late Ruggiero Ricci, he mentioned his studies in Germany with violinist-pedagogue Georg Kulenkampff (1898-1948), whom Ricci obviously admired though he lamented Kulenkampff’s poor proficiency in English. Kulenkampff became among the most respected violin players in Germany – albeit under the loathsome National Socialist regime – having been entrusted with the world premier of the revived Schumann Violin Concerto. Kulenkampff remained virtually oblivious to Nazi propaganda, preferring the Kreisler cadenzas for several of the concerto staples in his large repertory, which embraced chamber music after 1935, when he joined Edwin Fischer and Enrico Mainardi as an esteemed trio. [But did he do anything for Kreisler and the rest of his race who didn’t leave Europe?…Ed.]

Producer and restoration engineer Andrew Rose has resuscitated the 1947-1948 Decca records of the Brahms sonatas, originally produced by Victor Olof. Kulenkampff sports a lovely, sweet tone, direct and urgent, without cloying sentimentality.  I find it to be a perfect cross between Szigeti’s nasal insistence and Menuhin’s parlando articulation.  The pianist, we note, is the young Georg Solti (nee Stern), whose keyboard collaboration moves effectively and unobtrusively. The so-called Regenlied Sonata, Op. 78 (24 January 1947) exhibits various degrees of polished lyricism, moving, as Rachmaninov preferred to “the point.” The lulling quality of Kulenkampff’s playing can explode immediately to an insistent drama of no mean power.  Kulenkampff’s color capabilities for “autumnal Brahms” shine in the Adagio of the Op. 78, supported by some elegant chords in Solti’s bass and high treble registers.

Given a slight sonic depreciation in the Op. 100 “Thun” Sonata (July 1948), we can still appreciate the intimate lyricism Kulenkampff and Solti bring to the occasion. The innate warmth of Kulenkampff approach quite justifies his repute among his contemporaries and peers. Having recently celebrated the art of conductor Eugen Jochum on air, I wish their work on the Dvorak Concerto would come back for remastered restoration. The rounded phraseology of the “Thun’s” second movement Andante tranquillo bespeaks a world of poise, nuance, subtlety, and sophistication with the Brahms style that the new generation of violinists often misses.

The most dramatic of the Brahms violin sonatas, the d minor (July 1948), receives an aggressive performance from the outset, so that the contrasting repose in the opening Allegro achieves an exalted effect, often touching in the piano part from a musician whose later conducting style would hardly warrant the epithet “gentle.” Kulenkampff emerges as a natural “singer” with his instrument, so his segues into the more fiery passages in Brahms retain their lyric character. The Adagio serves as a perfect vehicle for Kulenkampff’s “interior” style, warmly intimate.  The curious third movement, a “dalliance of a young girl and her lover,” as Clara Schumann described this intermezzo, enjoys a mercurial series of colors, suddenly erupting in a moment of a real passion. The last movement, Presto agitato, permits Kulenkampff’s bravura, galloping elements their full sway, especially his “symphonic” double stops, which resonate ardently.

—Gary Lemco