Composed near the end of Brahms's life, these two Sonatas were originally written for clarinet and received their first performance on January 7th, 1895 with Richard Mühlfeld (whose artistry had inspired the composer) and Brahms himself at the piano. However, Brahms always saw them as also playable on the viola, and that version goes further than merely transposing where necessary: for example, some figuration is changed and there is double-stopping, and in a few places the instrument plays where the clarinet is silent.
Both versions are well represented in the current catalogue, though the clarinet one is more numerous than that with viola. Nevertheless, this new disc is welcome. Rivka Golani brings a highly developedRead more tonal flexibility to the music and shows a firm understanding of the style. So, for that matter, does her pianist Konstantin Bogino. Thus Brahms's darkish but often sadly beautiful vision is well realized, and the recording makes a good job of the difficult balancing act for these two instruments; even if the piano's bass has a thickish sound, that is not inappropriate. I question, however, whether the initial Allegro appassionato of the F minor Sonata should not move along just a little more briskly; on the evidence of this playing, Golani is essentially a serious artist who could also have brought more of a smile to the Allegretto grazioso third movement. Still, all is enjoyable and the finale has a splendid positive vigour.
I find Golani too slow in the Allegro amabile first movement of the E flat major Sonata—it is as if she has concentrated on the latter word in Brahms's marking and forgotten the former—and the Allegro appassionato that follows is also more deliberate than usual. But her playing has so much tonal beauty that this leisureliness may perhaps be excused, particularly as this work has no slow movement as such. Again, the finale has Schivung.
Joachim's work dates from 1860 and is here receiving its first recording. It's unremarkable as music (save that the lengthy theme is played just by the piano), and has a style somewhere between Schumann and Elgar plus a gipsy element (thus not unlike Brahms), but this great violinist wrote beautifully for the viola and Golani's playing of the ten longish variations is refined and expressive.