The Strad presents an exclusive premiere of the complete Violin Sonatas of Johannes Brahms, including a full documentary about unique and remarkable instruments used. The documentary is presented by violinist Daniel Kurganov, with Constantine Finehouse on piano. Together, they have released their album The Brahms Age on Hänssler Classic, featuring the Brahms Violin Sonatas. Kurganov writes:

What began as a commitment to discover Brahms’s sound-world ended up as an exercise in developing personal freedom, and discovering collaboration on truly equal terms. 

The Brahms Age really commenced as I first stepped into the hall for the initial recording first session. I was immediately captivated by the visual beauty of the 1868 Streicher ‘Brahms Piano’. Its deep wooden facade, tempered by the delicate fissures in its varnish, was complemented by a golden decal, gleaming yet clearly touched by time. The instrument’s appearance was a mirror to its sound: sumptuously velvet, yet with a defining clarity.

Historical instruments have been explored extensively within the context of Baroque and Classical music. In Romantic-era music, a combination of denser compositions and the emergence of powerful orchestras and modern concert grands has led violinists into a metaphorical ’arms race’. The incentives haven’t been there to explore Brahms’s sound world with instruments of the time, as the broader cultural and sonic expectations for that style of music prioritise bigger sound, sharper articulations, and pronounced projection. Raw gut strings and old pianos aren’t playing that game. Intriguingly, the realm of art gives us a foot in the door to engage in creative interference/destruction and drive taste. This mirrors the allure of great speakers whose more subdued tones draw listeners closer. 

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I hope this documentary and album can inspire chamber musicians to seek out growth opportunities and seize the artistic first-mover-advantage in their respective spheres. It’s worth considering several questions as you watch the film:

  • How do the tonal qualities of the piano shape one’s anticipation of the violin’s sound?
  • What is the relationship between a dynamics and colour?
  • In the realm of chamber music (with a piano), how does one typically contend with issues of balance? Do inherent and ineradicable disparities exist between the violin and the modern concert grand piano?
  • How does the raw gut E string affect the way melodies are executed on the violin?

The Brahms Age by Daniel Kurganov and Constantine Finehouse is out now on Hänssler Classic.

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