The Odeon Trio go for gold. Unlike either the Beaux Arts (Philips) or the Fontenay (Teldec), they use three CDs to include everything by Brahms that could possibly be called a piano trio, not forgetting the Op. 114 and Op. 40 wind trios, whose wind parts can well be rendered by strings. They decide, too, that the original 1853 version of the B major Trio is for them, rather than the revised version of 1889 which is more generally favoured.
Not autumnal, not reflective, not reserved, and definitely not restrained, this coupling of Brahms' two string sextets may seem to some to be at best wrong-headed and at worst simply wrong. After all, isn't Brahms the composer for whom the adjective autumnal was coined and to whom the adjectives reflective, reserved, and restrained are reflexively applied? Yes, but that doesn't mean all of Brahms' music is autumnal: he was young once, too and the expansive and exuberant young Brahms is emotionally far from the reflective, reserved, and restrained composer of later years.
This is an exceptional disc. Exceptional both for the music Johannes Brahms’ three violin sonatas contain some of his most lovely writing and the performance French violinist Augustin Dumay and Portuguese pianist Maria Pires project a strong interpretive vision. The interpretation is more lyrical and thoughtful than typical, with somewhat slow tempi generally. This is married to exquisite – and I mean, exquisite – technique from both Pires and Dumay as well as an outstanding sound engineering job from DG. The excellence of this CD is comprehensive.
With the proliferation of more and more recording labels and still more ensembles getting the opportunity to record their work, it is obviously increasingly difficult to bring anything truly original when performing works from the standard repertoire. Unfortunately, this fact may lead to some questionable performance decisions in striving for originality. Such seems to be the case with the Leopold String Trio and Marc-André Hamelin and their performance of the Brahms piano quartets.
Bernard Haitink conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Brahms’s great orchestral works, including the complete symphonies. The concertos feature three great soloists: pianist Claudio Arrau, violinist Henryk Szeryng, and cellist Janos Starker. "No one, I trust, will deny that Arrau has lived with, wrestled with, and in a truly terribly way ’known’ the D minor Concerto for more years than most of us can consciously recall. Where contemporary pianists have often tended to refine or domesticate the concerto, withdrawing it from the world of heroic endeavour, Arrau has always done the reverse. No pianist, apart possibly from Serkin in his several recordings, has communicated so formidably the work’s scope: its seriousness and its anxious, tragic mood. Often Arrau makes free with the text. But the vision is huge, the technique astonishing. Haitink is a worthy accompanist."
Julius Katchen performs the composer's work whom he most favored; again, highly-esteemed recordings among classical cognoscenti.