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Brahms: Complete Violin Sonatas / Stefan Jackiw, Max Levinson

Release Date: 10/26/2010 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 70397  
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Stefan JackiwMax Levinson
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS Violin Sonatas: No. 1 in G; No. 2 in A; No. 3 in d Stefan Jackiw (vn); Max Levinson (pn) SONY 70397 (70:38)

Had this arrived in the mail just a few days sooner, I could have included it in a triple-header review along with two other new releases of the Brahms violin sonatas with Anne-Sophie Mutter and Mark Fewer. But I’m glad it didn’t because it’s so good it deserves a stand-alone review of its own.

So who is this latest star, Stefan Jackiw? Well, he’s now 26, Read more born in 1985 in Boston to a Korean mother and a German father of Ukrainian origin, both of whom are physicists. His introduction to the violin was through the Suzuki method. Later instruction came from Zinaida Gilels, French violinist Michèle Auclair, and Donald Weilerstein, former first violin of the Cleveland Quartet. For further information, I direct you to Jackiw’s Web site, stefanjackiw.com, where among other things you will find a link to several YouTube videos of Jackiw performing the Mendelssohn concerto with the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra in June of 2008, the Prelude to Bach’s Solo Partita No. 3, and a violin-piano version of Beethoven’s Romance No. 2.

Based on my viewing of those clips, I can tell you (1) that Jackiw has the longest, boniest fingers I’ve ever seen on a violinist—I swear he could reach a 12th without even stretching. Lean and lanky in appearance, he could be a modern-day Paganini. And (2) Jackiw is fantastic, without question the next big name, in billboard-sized lettering, to take the violin world by storm. According to his site, he gave a spectacular performance of the Sibelius concerto with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic at the close of his 2009–10 season. The Sibelius being my favorite violin concerto, I want Sony to produce a recording of Jackiw playing it forthwith.

Now to his Brahms sonatas. I was a bit taken aback at first to note the disc timing of 70:38, which seemed to me to portend slowish tempos compared to other versions I know. But that turned out not to be the case; the longer timings are due to slightly more generous than usual pauses (i.e., dead time) provided at the end of each track. In fact, Jackiw’s reading of the last movement of the D-Minor Sonata is one of the fastest and most furious I’ve heard, a true Presto agitato, as Brahms indicated.

In my aforementioned review of Mark Fewer’s Brahms sonatas, I was extremely impressed by a tone smooth as silk, sweet as honey, and soft as velvet, and concluded that I would not hesitate to recommend his CD to all students and lovers of the violin who wish to know how pure and perfect a sound it is possible for a player on the instrument to produce. I did also note, however, that as sensuously beautiful as Fewer’s playing was, I did find it a bit aloof and lacking in emotional expression, specifically citing the major-seventh double-stop D?-C over a B?-Minor chord in the piano in the first movement of the G-Major Sonata that should stab at the heart.

Well, here, if you can believe it’s possible, we have Stefan Jackiw, who combines the best of both worlds. He produces a tone as rich and buttery as Fewer’s, and he seems to know intuitively just which notes to go for in the phrase to make that emotional point. It’s mid-fall here on the left coast as I write this, and I’m looking out my window watching the leaves dropping from the trees as I listen to this disc, the perfect backdrop to this music. That stab-in-the-heart moment arrives. Jackiw leans, not digs, into the D?-C double-stop with his bow, as hoped for, and then to make the moment more poignant, he swells slightly on it and backs off. That interpretive insight is the mark of not just an exceptionally fine player but of a musical artist of the highest caliber. That, and the falling leaves, made the tears flow, well before reaching the flowing tears of the last movement, based on the song from which the sonata takes its nickname, Regen (Rain).

It’s simple, really. This is now the recording of Brahms’s violin sonatas to have. It eclipses all of my previous favorites that I’ve cited numerous times in previous reviews. If Sony or some other label doesn’t record Jackiw in the entire mainstream violin repertoire just as fast as he can learn it, we will be missing out on hearing a young artist who may be well on his way to becoming one of the greatest violinists of the 21st century.

Just one last thing in closing: Pianist Max Levinson deserves far more credit than he’s accorded. His contribution is that of a true partner, not a mere accompanist. Brahms would have been amused to see the cover to this album and the print on the disc which emblazons the violinist’s name, Stefan Jackiw, in 24-point lettering, while the pianist’s name, Max Levinson, is reduced to type so small you practically need a magnifying glass to read it. Keep in mind that the original Simrock publication to these scores reads “Sonate für Pianoforte und Violine,” and that Brahms’s writing for the piano may be more difficult in these sonatas than it is for the violin. Levinson delivers the goods.

And oh yes, the recording is of state-of-the-art, audiophile quality. An imperative recommendation.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

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

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Beautiful! June 8, 2015 By S. Welles See All My Reviews "I received this cd as a gift and what a treasured gift it is. I am currently a bit obsessed by the beautiful partnership of Mr. Jackiw and Mr. Levinson on these recordings. A must for anyone who loves Brahms, the violin or beautiful music." Report Abuse
 Exquisite tone and attention to detail May 30, 2012 By P. Mohr See All My Reviews "Stefan is a beautiful interpreter of Brahms' sonatas. His tone is sweet and he pays sublime attention to every note. He is becoming one of my favorite violinists. I hope the world wakes up to his genius soon." Report Abuse
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