The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Maxim Rysanov (viola) Boris Brovtsyn (violin) Kristine Blaumane (cello) Katya Apekisheva (piano)* Jacob Katsnelson (piano)† 
Composer: Brahms

Brahms’s music is, of course, central to the repertoire of every viola player but, somewhat perversely, his only original compositions for viola, the Songs op.91, are missing from this set, that thus consists exclusively of transcribed music. There would have been room for them, and with any luck also for William Primrose’s transcription of the Second Violin Sonata op.100 (the Sonatensatz was included in a previous CD of Rysanov’s).

In the two op.120 sonatas (originally for clarinet), Rysanov takes a pragmatic view of the ‘octave problem’: he sticks to the Brahms-sanctioned (low) viola part in the F minor work, but in the E flat major Sonata, where it is really necessary if one is not to disturb the interplay with the piano, he transposes most passages back to the clarinet pitch. The contrast in character between both sonatas is further underlined by Rysanov’s extraordinarily fiery interpretation of the F minor’s outer movements, before starting the more lyrical E flat major with a very delicate, almost fragile thread of sound. His sound spectrum in all this music is indeed amazingly broad. The Scherzo of the E flat minor Sonata is appassionato enough, but I miss the solemnity of the chorale-like middle section, taken here at a breathless pace. The variations are nicely characterised by both Rysanov and pianist Jacob Katsnelson.

The First Violin Sonata is played in an arrangement (in D major) attributed to Paul Klengel, in-house arranger at Brahms’s publisher, Simrock. It works well, with just occasionally an unexpected change of octave, and the piece’s lyricism is beautifully realised by Rysanov and Apekisheva.

Both trios suffer from a disconcertingly wide stereo separation. In op.40 (originally with horn), Rysanov is on-and-off the picture balance-wise but is otherwise well attuned to the excellent violinist Boris Brovstyn in realising the piece’s elegiac atmosphere. No balance problems in the lyrical op.114 (originally with clarinet), which features some beautifully eloquent playing from cellist Kristine Blaumane. The recording quality is otherwise fine, and the CDs are attractively presented.

Carlos María Solare