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Brahms: Violin Sonatas / Tenenbaum, Kapp

Release Date: 04/26/2005 
Label:  Ess.a.y Recordings   Catalog #: 1085   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Richard KappMela Tenenbaum
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 8 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

“In the Brahms, how does this partnership stack up against other, more famous names? I’ve made no secret in the past of how much I admire these musicians, especially the closeness of their collaboration. To me, their playing, while yielding nothing technically, stands apart from the star, beautifully-machined treatment. I imagine – totally without experience, of course – theirs is what Mittel-Europa music-making is like: the close collaboration of two minds to yield something individual; a sense of superior music-making among friends. I value this quality in them primus inter pares. Kapp has called their interaction ‘telepathic,’ and I don’t disagree.

Chinese cooks and gourmands concern themselves with what they term ‘the true
Read more taste.’ Tenenbaum and Kapp achieve the Brahmsian flavor from the get-go. It’s a matter of forward motion. The ship, to recall the nautical analogy, leaves the harbor and soon plows through the open sea. It begins with the opening measures of the first sonata and continues through all the rest. Any successful account has to bring that to the table. I don’t care for Mutter and Weissenberg’s versions for exactly that reason: they don’t move in the right way. To a great extent, the pianist, who nevertheless must not appear to dominate, drives this quality. Most of the motion in Brahms comes from the lower notes, producing an oceanic ‘roll.’ If the pianist gives you the ocean, the violinist give you the birds soaring above it, physically free but contextually bound. That duality creates the primal psychic tension of these works. However, the personal is what makes this reading. Even if you didn’t know the circumstances of the recording, what strikes you most is a retrospection, a looking back with all the experience and wisdom of life, a mood one certainly finds in Brahms, though not necessarily the dominant one. The first sonata’s opening movement, for example, can be played as a triumphant celebration of nature, among other things. With Tenenbaum and Kapp, the triumph, mostly over oneself, is hard-won. I’ve heard the second sonata more warmly played, but also more superficially. Here, violinist and pianist meld into one entity, as they trade phrases seamlessly. They linger more over paragraphs and moments, finding something you haven’t heard in the music before. I have no idea how conscious all this is, since Kapp, at any rate, confesses that he just learned these pieces, and Tenenbaum never sounds as if she dictates anything. I also note a reticence –or, better, modesty – in their accounts. They talk of deep matters, but at the same time push the music rather than themselves forward, without inflation or a compulsion to ‘sell.’ For some, this may count against them, particularly in the third sonata, which Heifetz and Kapell, for example, almost turn into Brahms’ ‘Kreutzer.’ As I say, I like the latter approach, but over many listenings, Kapp and Tenenbaum speak to me –to me, rather than to a great hall of listeners – more. Their restraint in the third sonata makes the outbursts in the work all the more telling. In all, I consider this one of the outstanding CDs of the year.” -- Steve Schwartz, classical.net

The deep artistic rapport Mela Tenenbaum and Richard Kapp display in their splendid Bach sonata recordings permeates every measure of Brahms' three sonatas. As Kapp wrote in his booklet notes, the circumstances of his serious illness deemed that they record these works sooner rather than later, in Kapp's home rather than a studio. This explains the somewhat dry though surprisingly vibrant and lifelike sonics, along with difficult keyboard passages that cry out for more incisive virtuosity and power than Kapp delivers (the finales of Op. 78 and Op. 108). Astute listeners also will detect tiny ensemble and intonational blips that ordinarily disappear under more stringent studio standards. However, you accept these flaws in light of the beauties and insights Tenenbaum and Kapp generously serve up.

When Issac Stern wrote that Brahms' Op. 78 sonata is not a work that you perform but rather live through, he could have been describing how Tenenbaum inflects the first-movement exposition by playing around the beat like a seasoned jazz singer (helped by Kapp's clarification of Brahms' cross-rhythmic phrases), or how she savors the ruminative qualities in the A major sonata's central movement without ever appearing to overindulge. Listen also to the D minor sonata's first movement, where the piano's broken octaves richly sing out against Tenenbaum's long, sustained lines and subtle shifts of color. The effect is not unlike eavesdropping on intimate, intensely communicative conversations between old friends or family members. While the better-recorded Szeryng/Rubinstein (RCA), Suk/Katchen (Decca), and Dumay/Pires (DG) editions remain reference points, it's good to know that the present release transcends mere sentimental value. [5/6/2005]
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com

Mela Tenenbaum and Richard Kapp's 2005 recording of Brahms' Violin Sonatas is as passionately compelling, as deeply moving, and as overwhelmingly urgent a set of performances as has ever been recorded of anything anytime anywhere. Tenenbaum and Kapp had played together for decades; he had accompanied her and engineered her and produced her and the musical partnership was deep and complete. When Kapp was diagnosed with the virulent cancer that had killed many of his family, he and Tenenbaum spent three days alone recording Brahms' Sonatas. The results are staggering. Kapp is a brilliant musician and an intuitive pianist and his performances are big-hearted and strong. Tenenbaum is a soulful player and a lyrical violinist and her performances are full-throated and compassionate. Together, Kapp and Tenenbaum have wholeness of ensemble and a unity of purpose that goes beyond anything any other pair of performers has brought to these works. The warmth and humanity of these performances, the consideration, the affection, the sublimation, the transcendence, and the pure love of these performances puts them among the greatest ever recorded. The sound of the Kapp's living room is wonderfully close and marvelously intimate.

--James Leonard, All Music Guide

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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 in G major, Op. 78 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Richard Kapp (Piano), Mela Tenenbaum (Violin)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878-1879; Austria 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2 in A major, Op. 100 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Mela Tenenbaum (Violin), Richard Kapp (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; Austria 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 3 in D minor, Op. 108 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Richard Kapp (Piano), Mela Tenenbaum (Violin)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886-1888; Austria 

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