The Sonatas for Violin and Piano:
No.1 in G, Op.78
No.2 in A, Op.100
No.3 in D minor, Op.108
Anthony Marwood (violin) & Aleksandar Madžar (piano)
Recorded at Wigmore Hall, London on 19 September 2010 and 9 January & 15 May 2011
Reviewed by: Tully Potter
Reviewed: May 2012
CD No: WIGMORE HALL LIVE
Duration: 68 minutes
This disc appears to be the fiftieth in the Wigmore Hall Live series, which is a matter for congratulation. It is a very decent release, too, although in a crowded market it does not take any honours. Johannes Brahms’s three Violin Sonatas make a good programme for an album, as they build naturally to the most dramatic work, the D minor, and they fit nicely on to a compact disc.
They work well as a concert programme – such great duos of the past as Busch and Serkin, or Francescatti and Casadesus, used to present them that way – but in fact the present performances were taken down at three Sunday-morning coffee concerts, each devoted to Schubert, Schumann and Brahms.
The English violinist Anthony Marwood and the Serbian pianist Aleksandar Madžar have been a regular duo for some years and their familiarity with each other shows, as they achieve a very natural ebb and flow. The pianist, who teaches in Brussels when he is not giving concerts, is a magnificent Brahms interpreter of whom I have virtually no criticism. He has the style at his fingertips, can play the most difficult passages cleanly, and always sounds natural. Marwood is more of a problem for me. His tone, which is not very distinctive, tends to whiteness, especially in the upper register, and he is not entirely consistent in keeping contact between bow hair and string. Nor is he immune from that modern habit of letting irrelevant bulges into his tone. In the slow movements, where a simple legato is needed, he sometimes produces a somewhat curdled effect. I must stress that all these faults are very slight, but they add up to an impression of inconsistency. He seems to concentrate more when he has to play passages in double-stops, as they invariably come out well.
My only queries about tempo concern the G major Sonata. The basic speed for the first movement is fine, but I wonder if the artists slow down a little too much in the middle. I also wonder why they play faster, just because the music is getting louder. The pianist sets up a good atmosphere for the Adagio and, after one of his slightly sticky patches, Marwood allows his tone to flower nicely in the central section. The finale is played quite lightly and swiftly and the impression is somewhat airy-fairy.
The other two sonatas go well, except that in the finale of the A major, the players take a little time to establish their tempo. According to the booklet note by Richard Wigmore, they have changed their interpretation of this work the most over the years – they have certainly arrived at a pretty good formula. They have exactly the right idea for the D minor Sonata and rise well to the drama of its outer movements, while maintaining a good ranger of dynamics. The recordings are good and applause is retained at the end of each work, which seems apt.
Madžar’s biography in the booklet is a marvel of concision but still tells us about his origins and his teachers. Marwood’s, about five times as long, mostly consists of PR puffery.
In recent decades, there has been one disc of these sonatas which has represented an entirely fresh look at them. Pamela Frank and Peter Serkin, both the children of eminent Central European musicians, contrived to cast off more than a century of accumulated tradition in making their 1996 Decca recording. I was so shocked by the result that I got rid of my copy; but I found myself thinking about it and acquired another. If you can find one anywhere, I recommend it. For those wanting the traditional approach – which is what Marwood and Madžar give us – I suggest the still-available RCA disc by Nikolaj Znaider and Yefim Bronfman. The disc under review can safely be recommended to admirers of Marwood and Madžar.