Sonatas for Viola & Piano
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Ever the perfectionist, it was not until 1879 that Brahms completed his first violin sonata, which was to be aptly transcribed more than a century later for viola by the Hungarian violist Csaba Erdelyi. In 1894 the outstanding clarinettist Richard Muhl
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This CD contains the two sonatas written in 1894 by Brahms for clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld but marked as for either clarinet or viola and piano in the published score. They have been favorites of violists ever since. And it also contains the first performance I've ever heard of a transcription for viola and piano of Brahms's much-loved Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 78. The transcription was made by Hungarian violist Csaba Erdélyi who teaches at Indiana University. He transposed it down a fourth from G Major to D Major. It sounds absolutely wonderful in this transcription and is done full justice by violist Robert Díaz and pianist Jeremy Denk. After listening to it several times, and comparing it with several recordings of the violin sonata played as originally written, I've concluded that, wonder of wonders, I prefer the viola version. Maybe it's just that the work's latent autumnal quality -- brought out by the viola and the lowered piano part -- is highlighted all the more in this version. I found myself going back to it several times in the dark of night and being emotionally overwhelmed by its sweet nostalgia.
The two viola (clarinet) sonatas have received any number of recordings and while the clarinet versions are probably more familiar, the viola versions have been recorded by the likes of current violists Kim Kashkashian Brahms: Sonatas for Viola and Piano / Kashkashian, Levin and Pinchas Zukerman Brahms:The Violin and Viola Sonatas as well as in classic recordings by Oscar Shumsky Brahms: Sonatas for Violin & Piano; Sonatas for Viola & Piano and (of the First Sonata) by William Primrose (with William Kapell) Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3; Viola Sonata No. 1; Rachmaninoff: Cello Sonata, all of them sterling performances. Robert Díaz is the current President and CEO of the Curtis Institute, having come to that position from the principal viola chair of the Philadelphia Orchestra and before that the principal viola position in the National Symphony under Mstislav Rostropovich and as a member of the Boston Symphony. I wrote a rave review for an earlier CD of his, one containing transcriptions for viola done by William Primrose William Primrose: Viola Transcriptions. His father, Chilean violist Manuel Díaz, had been a student of Primrose's and indeed Roberto Díaz plays Primrose's own performing viola, an Amati. After hearing this recording and the earlier one I conclude there is no better current violist on the scene. As for the contribution of pianist Jeremy Denk in these sonatas whose piano parts require a partner the equal of the violist, one could not ask for a more sensitive musician.
This is a superb release, especially for the revelatory viola transcription of the First Violin Sonata. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone.