I found this a strange compilation. The concept is so convoluted it would take the entire review to explain. Suffice it to say, it’s about the internecine personal and creative dynamics between Brahms, the Schumanns and the violinist Joseph Joachim. I’ve always considered Brahms’ Double Concerto a dour, rather charmless work, and nothing here, as impressive as Isserlis and Bell are, changes my mind.
Curiously, Isserlis seems to take a back seat. That said, I can’t help but be amazed at the sound of the ASMF (how far they’ve come since those early Argo releases of fleet-footed Mozart symphonies with the late and generally lamented Sir Neville!) Whether or not this ensemble is ideally suited to music of this heft is another matter. And it seems an odd work to be conducted by one of the soloists.
Of greater interest was the original, more expansive, and much less performed, 1854 version of the Op. 8 B Major Piano Trio, yet another supposedly codified expression of love from Brahms to Clara Schumann. The second, 1889 version is more emotionally circumspect but this one is vaut le détour. They’re partnered by pianist Jeremy Denk. The joins, such as the incongruous fugue in the first movement, are not glossed over. I’ve always marvelled at how Brahms managed to compose so much “autumnal-sounding” music while so young: here, in the Scherzo, he manages to make it sound quite foreboding.
The stand-alone version of the slow movement of Schumann’s Violin Concerto creates a buffer between the two major works. Its codetta was rounded off by Benjamin Britten, of all people, as the original leads into the finale attaca. Both Isserlis – the movement also has a prominent cello part – and Bell, play with plangent beauty.