About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



In Out of the Rain

New York
Metropolitan Museum
02/20/2002 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: String Trio Op. 9, # 3
Johannes Brahms: Violin Sonata # 1
Antonin Dvorak: Piano Quintet

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Benny Kim (violins)
Evan Wilson (viola)
Eric Kim (cello)
Anne-Marie McDermott (piano)

“…a composition full of restrained sweetness and that yearning tenderness which-as so often in Brahms-seems to smile through tears…”

Karl Geiringer, Brahms: His Life and Work

Sometime during my lifetime, several classic works of music lost their nicknames: Mahler’s First Symphony is hardly ever called the “Titan” any longer (and certainly no one refers to the 5th as the “Giant”), Bruckner’s 3rd is never the “Wagner”, and the Sonata # 1 for Violin and Piano of Brahms has shed its once common appellation “Rain”. The sobriquet comes from a song (the Regenlied) that the composer uses for melodic inspiration in much the same manner as Schubert employed “Death and the Maiden” or “Die Forelle”. But further, it establishes just the right mood of sehnsucht (a difficult word to translate- let’s call it a melancholy brought upon by communication with the natural world) and one can almost taste the drops on one’s tongue in this extremely emotive evocation. Brahms was deeply immersed in the throes of creation of his masterful Violin Concerto when he penned this sonata and the delicate beauty of the full orchestral composition haunts every measure of this chamber piece. The opening, hesitantly sensual repetition of the note d not once but twice establishes an immediate radiance not only as the dominant of G Major for the sonata, but reminds of the D Major of the concerto. Since the full concerto is a specialty of violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (she has a special internal connection with it that is unmistakable in live performance), a rendition of the sonata with the equally impressive pianist Anne-Marie McDermott was more than enough to entice me to attend their soiree at the Metropolitan Museum last evening.

Brahms’ partnership with Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi had taught him early on not to allow the piano to dominate the proceedings (although he seems to have ignored this lesson in the piano quartets and the quintet). The keyboard part is almost diaphanous in this sonata, certainly some of the most delicate writing of this especially strong-handed composer. It is almost as if he were accompanying a lied here, sensitive to the poetic utterances of the featured artist. Ms. McDermott and her partner seemed to approach this entire experience as an essay in quietude. The initial mood was searching, almost religious, as they combined the ingenuous phrases at the outset into a slowly developing farrago of emotions: tentative, disturbing, vulnerable. Particularly impressive in this sonnet-like construction was Ms. S-S’s ability to vary her dynamics only slightly to express a particular phrase entirely differently while not altering its rhythmic makeup. Hers is a styling to die for and generously supported with strong and healthy vibrato that she employs with the masters of the Romantic tradition solidly behind her (rare in a modern interpreter). Both artists’ attacks were noticeably dramatic as they built this wonderful first movement into a full whirlwind, a literal sturm of Sturm und Drang with no loss of violinistic intonation in the double forte passages. Seldom, if ever, have I heard this movement so deeply investigated, this journey reaching the very edge of delicious pain and suffering. The second movement begins similarly to that Violin Concerto which is its sister composition, a long piano introduction taking the sonorous focus away from the unique tone of the fiddle. From this sensitively performed solo through the entire remainder of the sonata, the two amazingly well-matched partners hardly played above a whisper, their enunciations all the more revelatory for their tenderness. This was an extremely deeply felt, thoughtful and invested performance, the superior of any that I have ever heard, even on recordings. In these talented four hands, the gentle ending became a morendo that was too beautiful to interrupt with applause, although the performers received a generous portion nonetheless.

The remainder of the evening was less satisfying. The three gentlemen had opened the program with an unspectacular reading of a lightweight piece of Beethovenian tafel-musik dogged with mistakes and unremarkable tone. The combination of all in the Dvorak led to the first movement being overplayed, the tempo beyond the pale of the male participants’ scope of accuracy. Even Ms. McDermott was uncharacteristically sloppy (although characteristically hard-driving) and the sought-after sense of dramatic excitement was blurred in an overtonal fog, although, after that spectacular Brahms, even the old Rubinstein rendition with the Guarneri might have sounded deficient. Despite the still obvious connection of pianist and first violinist and a ferocious third movement that worked very well, this reading was choppy and uneven. Some of the repetitions and alterations of phrase between the two women were brilliant, but there was also the problem of unblended sonority: Ms. S-S has such a gigantic and magical tone as to render the other string instruments’ sound pedestrian. She is simply playing at another level.

For a variety of reasons, some delineated in the film “Speaking in Strings”, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg’s career took a wrong turn a few years ago. Her press release states that this season she is appearing with the orchestras in Minnesota, Dallas, Baltimore, Oregon and Calgary. Although I am sure that these are all hard-working and dedicated ensembles, the list should read Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Philadelphia (not to mention Amsterdam and Berlin). Perhaps Ms. S-S is simply more comfortable in her somewhat reduced surroundings, but, if it is a lack of confidence that colors her professional decisions, it is unfortunate that she cannot come out into the audience and sit in my seat. Then she would realize how amazingly talented she really is.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com