The source for these Brilliant Classics transfers is a 1991 recording released (and still available at full price) on the Ottavo label. And though now appearing for the first time as a single disc, these performances have been extracted from BC’s long available 12- and 60-disc mega-box sets of, respectively, Brahms’s complete chamber music and complete works.
I was a bit surprised to find no prior reviews of György Pauk’s recordings in the Fanfare Archive. Though he may not be among the top ranks of 20th-century violinists, during his career, György Pauk played an important role in promoting the works of contemporary composers, coming to be associated especially with Bartók. Longtime readers are apt toRead more remember Pauk from his contributions to Vox.
Born in Hungary in 1936, Pauk attended the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest where he studied under Zoltán Kodály. He went on to win first prize at the Paganini International Violin Competition in Genoa, the Premier Grand Prix at the Marguerite Long–Jacques Thibaud International Violin Competition in Paris, and first prize in the International Music Competition of the ARD (German TV) in Munich. In 1961, he settled in London, making his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra under Lorin Maazel. Ten years later, Pauk made his American debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the invitation of Georg Solti. And while Pauk’s currently listed recordings number fewer than two dozen, he has appeared with leading orchestras and conductors like Boulez, Haitink, Rattle, and Tennstedt, among others.
These performances of the Brahms violin sonatas are proof certain yet again why one should not form an opinion based on biased expectations. Given Pauk’s enduring interest in and efforts on behalf of modern music—he has premiered works by Maxwell Davies, Lutos?awski, Penderecki, Schnittke, and Tippett—I admittedly had some reservations about hearing him in works that embody the very spirit of late Romanticism at its ripest. But Pauk, I am surprised but pleased to say, set my apprehension to rest. In fact, he turned it on its head, for these are some of the most Romantic readings of the sonatas I’ve heard.
This is not to suggest that in the main tempos are overly broad—though slow movements tend to be a bit slower than the norm—or that Pauk distends phrases, distorts rhythms, or over-indulges in portamento. Rather, he plays the notes as Brahms wrote them, shading the sweet-toned voice of his 1714 Stradivarius with a subtle palette of colors produced by varying his bow pressure and intensity of vibrato. What emerges from the recordings is an almost pristine clarity in which details emerge from both the violin and piano parts that are not always so audibly delineated in other readings. Pianist Roger Vignoles must also receive credit for the transparency, indeed the luminosity, of these performances, for to a greater degree than a number of other duo sonatas of this period, these works by Brahms are true equal partnership affairs.
A bonus of the CD is also the inclusion of what is possibly the earliest piece the composer wrote for violin and piano, the single movement he contributed to the so-called F-A-E Sonata, a joint effort by Schumann, Albert Dietrich, and Brahms intended as a gift for Joachim. While there is a smattering of other recordings of the three numbered sonatas that also offer the F-A-E Scherzo—such as Tetzlaff and Vogt on EMI and Amoyal and Chiu on Harmonia Mundi, the latter one of my longtime favorites—surprisingly few single discs offer it. The track listing and total timing on the current Brilliant Classics CD, by the way, do not disclose its presence on the disc, showing only 10 index numbers instead of the 11 that are actually present.
This would not have to be a budget-priced CD for me to recommend it; that I can do on the excellence of the performances and the quality of the recording alone. Pauk and Vignoles will definitely join my short list of favorites, which includes the aforementioned Amoyal/Chiu, along with Wallin/Pöntinen on Arte Nova and Znaider/Bronfman on RCA (see both reviews in Fanfare 31:2).
EssentialJune 19, 2012By Anthony G. (SANTA FE, NM)See All My Reviews"Owning this CD is essential to any serious music lover. These sonatas are the Mount Everest of their genre and justifiably part of the music canon. More importantly, however, they are glorious music, and glorious music that is stunningly and warmly played. You may be tempted, as I am, to look into the discography of Pauk and Vignoles. I had never heard of them before and consider that a real oversight in my musical life. I am remedying that by searching what else they have recorded either as a duo, or, as individual artists, and purchasing accordingly. Their playing is ethereal. I invite you to explore their artistry along with me."Report Abuse