Brahms Violin Concerto; String Sextet No 2

Striking additions cast a familiar concerto in an unfamiliar guise

Author: 
DuncanDruce

Brahms Violin Concerto; String Sextet No 2

  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
  • String Sextet No. 2

This account of the Violin Concerto is noteworthy in several ways. Instead of the familiar Joachim cadenza in the first movement, Isabelle Faust plays one by Busoni, strikingly accompanied by timpani rolls and then by the orchestral strings, and powerfully integrated into the structure. With a string section of just 32, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra achieve an unusual degree of clarity, with the important wind parts prominent. And Faust is often happy to allow soloists from the orchestra to take centre stage, as when she gives way to the oboe towards the end of the Adagio.

She has also taken notice of Joachim’s metronome marks: in the first movement the initial speed is not unusual but it’s maintained through the movement in a way we don’t often hear: the start of the second solo, for instance (track 1, 9'42"), continues the orchestra’s forward movement, whereas Joshua Bell (Decca, 5/96) immediately holds back, as has become conventional. The Adagio’s opening paragraph has a happy, serenade-like atmosphere, and Faust is then able to make an effective point of the più sostenuto middle section. Elsewhere, the fiery parts of the concerto are particularly successful and the lyrical episodes very touching. By the side of Bell’s spontaneity, some listeners may find parts of the first movement too restrained, but in the finale she outdoes him in liveliness and gypsy character.

The same applies to the Sextet. There are places where the warm expressiveness of the Lindsays (ASV, 7/06) is missing but this performance offers near-perfect balance and integration of sound. I admire especially the powerful sense of line running through the Poco adagio variations and the way the melancholy Scherzo gives way so naturally to its rollicking Trio section.

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