Johannes Brahms – Violin Sonatas
Leila Schayegh (violin)
Jan Schultsz (piano)
Release: September 2018
A bit of a shock
For those of us use to a big boned performance of these three deeply romantic violin sonatas, this recording might come as a bit of a shock. The violin is a copy of period instrument while the piano is an original Streicher & Sohn and the performance itself eschews modern performing practices in favour of a more romantic interpretation. The result of this is at first a little off-putting, but once you have become used to the nineteenth century sensibilities employed here, the results are quite revelatory.
There are many fine recordings out there that present the Brahms Sonatas in a more modern manner, one of my favourites being that by Joseph Suk and Julius Katchen on Decca (466 393-2). Their considered approach to phrasing gives their performances a special place in my collection. Another team that I enjoy is Krysia Osostowicz and Susan Tomes, who offer slightly lighter performances on their Hyperion disc (CDA66465). Both of these choose tempos very close to each other and to others I know. This new recording by Leila Schayegh and Jan Schultsz tends to offer slightly quicker tempos. It only amounts to four minutes over all, but it is telling, especially in the faster movements, where Leila Schayegh’s prowess as a baroque performer comes to the fore.
Leila Schayegh’s use of portamento and her lightness of tone on her gut strung violin set her apart from the others I know, Suk in particular. This is in keeping with Jan Schultsz’s piano playing, as he seems to bounce across the keyboard. Schultsz’s style is apt for the Streicher & Sohn instrument, the same model as that owned by Brahms himself It has a lighter tone the instruments used by other pianists, a sound far superior to a fortepiano but not as grand or heavy as a modern instrument. This all adds up to what Schayegh, in her excellent booklet notes, describes as a more authentic interpretation of the Sonatas. The addition of the Allegro from the FAE Sonata is welcome, especially when given the verve of the performance here.
The performances are excellent, once you get used to the sound, and will certainly open your eyes and ears to nineteenth century performing practice – Schayegh’s slides between notes and use of rubato make for an enjoyable experience. There is a clear understanding between Schayegh and Schultsz with their clear goal of authenticity coming through in the partnership and their playing. Yes, I know the sound might not be to everyone’s taste, but give it time and it becomes more than just a useful alternative to modern style performances. For me, while it does not topple Suk and Katchen in my affections, it is certainly near the top and supplants Osostowicz and Tomes.
As already mentioned, the booklet notes by Clive Brown and Leila Schayegh are excellent, with Brown discussing the music and its place in history, while Schayegh discusses their research into performance history and hers and Schultsz’s stated aim of producing performances that live up to this research. The recorded sound is also top notch, it has a naturalness that captures the delights that the instruments offer. This recording is a real winner.
Stuart Sillitoe, Musicweb international, Nov 2018