brahms connection qtz2151

The Brahms Connection
Robert Fuchs (1847-1927)
Cello Sonata in D minor Op29
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor Op 38
Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900)
Cello Sonata No.1 in A minor Op 52
Dimitri Maslennikov (cello)
Sabine Weyer (piano)
rec. 2022, Trifolion Echternach, Luxembourg
Reviewed as a digital download from a press preview

This superlative new recording is as richly stimulating in its programme as it is generously rewarding in its music making. Too often Brahms is seen as a figure standing alone at the end of a musical line. By choosing two largely forgotten masterpieces by younger contemporaries, our perception of Brahms is deepened and modified. I use the term masterpiece advisedly as in their contrasting ways the two sonatas chosen to partner the Brahms first sonata are fully its equal.

The first cello sonata by Robert Fuchs is like an answer to the question how might Brahms’ music have developed if he hadn’t tempered his romantic, Schubertian instincts with such classical rigour. The young duo of Dimitri Maslennikov and Sabine Weyer are right to start this recording with the glorious outpouring of melancholy song with which this sonata begins.

Fuchs himself, if he is remembered at all, is largely a footnote in the biographies of others such as Mahler whom he taught. The liner notes inform me that his weakness was a failure to promote his own music. If this sonata is typical of the quality of his output then other performers would be well advised to seek him out. It had me hooked from the rippling melancholy of its opening melody.

It helps that Quartz Music have delivered quite exceptionally high quality sound for Weyer and Maslennikov. If you are going to persuade listeners to attempt forgotten music then it is a good idea to give them sound as enticing to the ear as this is. Weyer’s piano could scarcely be more beautifully caught. The bass end, in particular, has an amplitude that anchors the music with a juicy ripeness. If you hear a better sounding recording of cello and piano this year then you will be very fortunate indeed.

Even the best recorded sound can only capture what noises the performers make so what of the performances? One could hardly ask for better. Maslennikov’s tone is noble and restrained and delightfully focused. Think more Fournier than Rostropovich. It is hard to work out which comes first Weyer’s fantastical musical imagination or the tonal delights she conjures from the extensive piano parts of all three sonatas. Both players continually strike sparks off one another. This is high romantic music and Maslennikov and Weyer luxuriate in it and so do we the listeners.

Maslennikov and Weyer earn my gratitude through their genuine understanding that this is chamber music rather than intended for projection to the back row of a large auditorium. Weyer in particular never lets Brahms’ extensive piano part congeal like cold porridge. A fine example is the early climax of the first subject of the opening movement where even top notch Brahms pianists like Emmanuel Ax can’t resist a hardening of the sound. Weyer resists the temptation. She increases the volume level but it grows naturally out of the singing of the melody line. In so doing she is also careful not to overwhelm her musical partner. Both performers find a heady, almost intoxicated, atmosphere in this first movement that belies its rather gruff reputation.

I greatly enjoyed the slight courtly stiffness they gave to the main section of the second movement demonstrating why Brahms designated it a minuet. If the fugal finale is a little more restrained than some versions, it does have the effect of making it less severe.

The disc concludes with another rarity. This time from another of Brahms’ younger contemporaries, Heinrich von Herzogenberg. The Fuchs is the more immediately appealing of the pair of less wellk-nown sonatas on this album but both are complex and satisfying works that repay getting to know them. No one listening to this version of Von Herzogenberg’s noble first sonata will be left thinking that they have been listening to a mere novelty. As I have already indicated, like the Fuchs it can hold its head up in company with the much better-known Brahms.

If Fuchs is a biographical footnote, von Herzogenberg barely qualifies even as that. His first cello sonata, at least as recorded here, is anything but a dusty museum piece but pulses with a gentle passion. Like the Fuchs, it is rather Brahmsian though even that observation may need qualification since this programme recontextualises Brahms within his era – perhaps what we tend to think of as Brahmsian has more to do with his era than just his individual genius. More likely Brahms was in part the inspiration for these two works.

The slow movement of von Herzogenberg’s sonata is a glorious thing. It opens with an aching heart before giving way to a troubling rumbling of the spirit on the piano over which the cello declaims a poignant threnody. Finally the piano answers with a consoling voice to which the cello replies. The shadows of the opening are never quite dispelled and the mood of the movement hovers deliciously and ambivalently without ever resolving matters. I can’t believe any lover of Brahms would fail to be moved by it. It is an Adagio on the true grand scale. Von Herzogenberg follows it up with a finale that is alternately brooding, tempestuous and mischievous. Weyer is again wonderful at picking out the lights and the half lights in this complex, compelling tapestry of sound. In a world not exactly overflowing with great cello sonatas, both this and the Fuchs should be standard repertory pieces.

I hope that these marvellous young musicians are planning to give the second of Brahms’ cello sonatas the same treatment and that they have already unearthed some more neglected goodies to partner it. Maybe after that they can be persuaded to do the same for the Brahms piano quartets. And then the Brahms piano trios…

David McDade

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music