BRAHMS Viola Sonatas. Rhapsodies
To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail, and it’s easy enough to see why viola payers love the viola transcriptions of Brahms’s two late clarinet sonatas. For the listener without a horse in the race, though, the pleasure will come from hearing what an artist of Yuri Bashmet’s stature can make of these wonderful pieces today, having previously given us his thoughts on Melodiya (5/88) and RCA (10/99).
Certainly, no one will mistake Bashmet’s firm, plangent tone for a clarinet, and from the questioning way Ksenia Bashmet opens the First Sonata, you’re unlikely to mistake these readings for Yuri’s earlier accounts either. Ardour and grandiloquence have been replaced here by a pensive, almost rhapsodic approach. The music stretches, pauses and lingers; the opening of the Second Sonata feels positively becalmed.
It’s become routine to describe these sonatas as ‘autumnal’; but although both players can rally when necessary, you really do get a sense throughout both works of an ebb tide, of passions receding. If that’s what you crave, these players respond sensitively and unaffectedly to each other, though I suspect it’s not wholly coincidental that Ksenia’s two capricious but intensely serious Op 79 Rhapsodies have a forwards momentum that’s markedly less present when she’s playing with her father.
The sound is warm, natural and lucid, but the CD comes with a gimmick: a second copy with ‘Mobility Mastering’, ‘adapted for computers, nomad and car sound systems’. On my home CD player it increased the brightness of the viola while making the piano slightly muzzier; on my laptop it came across more emphatically but not particularly beautifully. To be honest, probably only diehard audiophiles need bother.