String Sextet No 2, Violin Concerto
Daniel Harding, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Isabelle Faust
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902075

Isabelle Faust’s reading eschews the sprawling grandeur of some interpretations but it’s in no sense Brahms-Lite.

Is this another example of repertoire creep? Recently I reviewed (favorably) a Bruckner symphony played by a chamber orchestra. Now Brahms’s Violin Concerto turns up. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra is the ideal partner here, as Isabelle Faust’s reading eschews the sprawling grandeur of some interpretations but it’s in no sense Brahms-Lite.

Poetry and introspection abound in Faust’s playing, while her vibrato is restrained and her phrasing warm. At 37 minutes, it’s on the swift end of the tempo spectrum but is never remotely perfunctory or generalised. One interesting aspect is her use of Busoni’s 1913 cadenza with timpani accompaniment (inspired by its similar use in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto?) Brahms had a soft spot for Busoni, once declaring he would mentor the younger composer in the same way Schumann did Brahms.

The Second Sextet, almost equally significant to the concerto, makes me marvel at how Brahms, even at a relatively young age, could suffuse his music with an autumnal melancholy and sense of yearning, seldom more than here in a work allegedly written “on the rebound”. Yet there remains an exquisite ambiguity of veiled emotions here. The performance of the Sextet begins with what seems like an extended trill on the viola and this motif seems to pervade the entire movement. The so-called scherzo begins with a scampering, almost Mendelssohnian figure and doesn’t become animated until virtually halfway through when it bursts into an exuberant dance.

The players explore the theme and variations of the slow movement with just the right degree of delicateness and The finale is a bravura display. This is a superbly enjoyable CD.

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BRAHMS: Violin Concerto; String Sextet No 2 (violin: Isabelle Faust; Mahler CO/Harding)
4.5 out of 5
Harmonia Mundi
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