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Brahms: Viola Sonatas, Schumann: Marchenbilder / Roberts, Vogt

Brahms / Schumann
Release Date: 09/13/2011 
Label:  Cavi Music   Catalog #: 8553181  
Composer:  Johannes BrahmsRobert Schumann
Performer:  Rachel RobertsLars Vogt
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS Viola Sonatas: No. 1 in f; No. 2 in E?. SCHUMANN Märchenbilder Rachel Roberts (va); Lars Vogt (pn) CAVI 8553181 (59:54)

Lars Vogt is the more familiar half of this duo, though I notice that Colin Clarke has reviewed a recording from Vogt’s 2009 Spannungen Festival in which Rachel Roberts plays viola in a performance of Schubert’s Octet. As far as I know, however, this is the first CD on which we get to hear her one-on-one. Read more

More than enough has been said in these pages about the viola versions of the two sonatas Brahms originally composed for clarinet. Take them as you will. There may be no other instrument as close in range and tonal properties to the clarinet, or better chosen as an alternative to convey the melancholic moods of these scores, than the viola, a fact supported by the number of violists who have recorded them. Roberts joins an illustrious lineup that includes Yuri Bashmet, Kim Kashkashian, Nobuko Imai, and a recent favorite I reviewed, Ettore Causa.

What may be said of Roberts’s readings of the two sonatas is that she does not command Bashmet’s big, cello-sized tone—I’m not sure any other violist does—but her more modestly voiced instrument pays handsome dividends in focus and transparency. The sheer volume of Bashmet’s tone is extremely seductive, but it can have a tendency to spread like molasses, muddying the line. Roberts produces a thinner, though never pinched, sound, which allows her double-stops in the F-Minor Sonata’s first movement (mm. 147–150) to ring out with exceptional clarity. Too, she is capable of producing some of the most delicate pianissimos this side of silence you are likely to hear. An experienced chamber-music partner, Vogt never asserts himself to the point of overpowering Roberts.

Overall, I would have to say that Roberts and Vogt take a tender and mellow approach to Brahms’s valedictory chamber music essays. One could say they go gently into that good night. A kind of calm, if regretful, acceptance permeates these performances; agitated, eruptive passages, of which there are some in these scores, tend to be a bit underplayed. Otherwise, the sonatas are played with comely, caressing care. This is the kind of artistry that conceals the art that goes into making it.

Schumann’s Märchenbilder (Fairytale Pictures) makes a logical discmate for the Brahms sonatas and has, in fact, been done many times before. Unusual for its time, the work was originally scored, as it’s heard here, for viola. Composed of four apparently unrelated character pieces bearing only tempo markings, it’s anyone’s guess what Schumann’s fairies are up to, but they belong to the same category of Romantic miniatures that found expression in works like Dvo?ák’s Four Romantic Pieces.

Beautifully recorded in the Chamber Music Hall of the German Radio, Cologne, in 2010, this can be recommended as an addition to other favorite accounts of these works, but not necessarily as an only version.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Clarinet/Viola and Piano no 1 in F minor, Op. 120 no 1 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Rachel Roberts (Viola), Lars Vogt (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894; Germany 
Sonata for Clarinet/Viola and Piano no 2 in E flat major, Op. 120 no 2 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Rachel Roberts (Viola), Lars Vogt (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894; Germany 
Märchenbilder for Viola and Piano, Op. 113 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Rachel Roberts (Viola), Lars Vogt (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 

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