Notes and Editorial Reviews
Subtle and variegated performances tending toward the interior.
In his accompanying note to this release Clive Greensmith lays down a few performance imperatives. The disc is broadly “historically inspired” with pianist Boris Berman using an 1885 Bechstein baby grand, further noting that apparently Brahms preferred smaller grands and had an aversion to Viennese concert grands. Greensmith himself plays on his accustomed Strad but with four gut strings – allowing him to blend better with the piano and not, he avers, for slavish reasons. One result has been an avoidance of big sound generic performance and the establishment of different principles – plangent tone allied to long bow. Another has been a good balance
between the two instruments, something that is exceptionally difficult to get right normally.
The proof is in the dessert. Here are performances of interior expressive eloquence. The E minor is spun with generous flexibility quite the opposite of the Russian School’s high wire act of projection and articulation. There’s no digging into the string. Instead utilising the gut strings sensitively Greensmith draws a wide range of tone colours. Occasionally a slightly nasal tone emerges in the more strenuous passagework but the balance between the two instruments remains excellent. Greensmith and Berman catch the dance rhythms of Menuetto, the give and take between them finely judged. The rhythmic emphases are subtly deployed and the finale’s vibrant and exciting. The cello is recorded quite forwardly and Berman plays with rewarding control – his treble glinting dextrously.
The companion sonata opens with well projected fanfare themes. The sense of integration of the two instruments is certainly palpable. The slow movement is limpidly phrased and again introspective in tenor. Berman’s tonal gradations are laudable and Greensmith’s pizzicati ring out defiantly. Ensemble qualities are evident throughout this performance with the third movement’s rubati well attended to.
Coupled with the Brahms sonatas is Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Style Op.102. They range from the darkly raffish to the reflective to the humorous and toughly delineated final one (
Starck und markiert). The recording is close enough to pick up Greensmith’s sniffs – those intakes of breath are especially noticeable when he has to deal with, say, the difficult-to-phrase fast sections of the third piece.
These are altogether subtle and variegated performances tending toward the interior. As such they’re diametrically opposed to, say, the Rostropovich/Serkin or du Pré/Barenboim approaches or going further back, the Feuermann recording of No. 1.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
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