Brahms Violin Sonatas Nos 1 - 3
Here’s an interesting foray into period performance. The 1870 Streicher piano used by Grigorieva has a very different sonority from the early Steinways that have featured on some recent recordings – softer in quality, and though the bass is powerful enough, the sound appears to decay more rapidly. Korol’s violin is gut-strung and, very correctly, he confines himself to a quite narrow vibrato, applied selectively. The textures are unusually clear, and, in many places, the sound-picture is as beautiful as it is distinctive – the opening of Op 78 is exceptionally soft and poetic, the development section of Op 108’s first movement deeply mysterious.
Grigorieva and Korol have succeeded, then, in recreating a lost violin-and-piano sonority, with excellent balance and blend. But if their desire is to get close to how a performance of these sonatas in Brahms’s day would have sounded, I’m not persuaded. Korol’s cool, refined playing eschews the expressive slides, pervasive rubato and passionate approach we can hear from violinists like Joachim and Arnold Rosé who worked with Brahms and survived to make gramophone recordings. Similarly, Grigorieva’s very precise and occasionally rather dry playing doesn’t exactly tally with Fanny Davies’s description of Brahms the pianist – “free, very elastic and expansive”. The trick, very difficult to achieve, would be to absorb all the performance-practice lessons and then play these wonderful sonatas with the warmth and spontaneity of the best modern duos, for example Pamela Frank and Peter Serkin (Decca, 5/98 – nla).