The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: A Brahms concerto and string sextet that ultimately fail to ignite
Musicians: Isabelle Faust, Julia-Maria Kretz (violin) Stefan Fehlandt, Pauline Sachse (viola) Christoph Richter, Xenia Jankovic (cello) Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Harding
Composer: Brahms

There is much to enjoy here, though the Concerto falls between two stools. A swift, chamber reading might have been intriguing, but the Allegro features the usual relaxations and at times Daniel Harding is following his soloist. Isabelle Faust does not hang about too much (taking 17 minutes to arrive at the start of the interesting Busoni cadenza with timpani), but could have been a shade brisker.

Brahms’s favourite ensemble, the Meiningen Court Orchestra fielded 60 players and in the tuttis the 47-strong Mahler Chamber Orchestra is clearly trying too hard: ten more strings would have helped. Harding and his solo oboist throw away the lovely opening to the Adagio. Praise be, Faust is not too slow in the finale, but I wish I could warm more to her tone – in fact, I wish she could warm more to it.

Violin tone is again crucial in the Sextet, too lean and mean for my taste: even the waltzing second subject of the Allegro fails to lift my heart. The scherzo is rather tough, although its trio is pleasing, and grimness invades the variations. The finale takes best to the athletic Faustian approach but I shall stick to the glorious old Marlboro recording (Sony) for its warmth and strength.