Notes and Editorial Reviews
At first I casually sampled this Brahms disc without glancing at the booklet notes. Yet within minutes I was hooked, drawn in to Isabelle Faust's atypically cool tone yet wider than usual palette of nuances, and the darkly distinct yet agile, chameleon-like timbre of Teunis Van der Zwart's horn. I noticed the piano's somewhat lighter bass, crystal middle-register chord voicings, plus top notes that were rounder, less brilliant than expected, and not consistently in tune. Despite the piano's quirks, Alexander Melnikov's absolute mastery of dynamic calibration and astute detailing commanded my undivided attention. Finally I picked up the booklet and discovered I'd been listening to period instruments: a gut-stringed Stradivarius, a natural
horn circa 1845, and a restored 1875 vintage Bösendorfer grand.
Clearly the performers revel in these instruments. The Horn Trio's Scherzo and Finale abound with litheness and gusto, yet without sacrificing one iota of linear clarity. In the fluid, eloquently-spun slow movement and first-movement development section, Van der Zwart and Faust achieve a stunning expressive rapport in the variety of ways they mix and match their sonorities.
The Op. 78 Violin Sonata interpretation represents a successful fusion of temperamental opposites, where Faust's discreet vibrato deployment and classical reserve provide a foil for Melnikov's more expansive temperament. The Op. 116 Piano Pieces stand out for Melnikov's full-bodied projection and intelligent textural interplay between the hands, most tellingly so in the fast and thick Capriccios. Perhaps his basic tempo for the A minor Intermezzo drags a bit, yet he brings out certain left-hand counter-lines other pianists often ignore. In short, this release's formidable programming and interpretive distinctions provide a stimulating diversion from the catalog's Brahmsian comfort zone.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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