Roberto Díaz / Jeremy Denk

Brahms: Sonatas for Viola & Piano

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It was not until the very end of his life that Brahms first developed his love affair with the clarinet. A chance introduction to clarinetist Richard Mühlfield presented the instrument in an entirely new light and was to be the catalyst for a flurry of chamber compositions including the Clarinet Quintet, Clarinet Trio, and of course the two clarinet sonatas. When he published these two late, great works, Brahms himself marketed them as being appropriate for either clarinet or viola, and today both instruments hold the sonatas in high esteem within their literature. While the two instruments share some of the same tonal characteristics and range, they differ greatly in their ability to project sound. The viola often struggles to overcome the sometimes dense writing in the piano. This Naxos album, featuring violist Roberto Díaz and pianist Jeremy Denk, gives listeners a full, powerful, easily audible viola sound. It seems to come at a slight cost in that Denk appears to hold back slightly, not giving the full, robust fortes that might be hoped for. Apart from this minor shortcoming, however, this disc is sublime. Díaz's tone is sultry and nuanced, and his attention to pacing and subtle variations in dynamics create an atmosphere of intimacy. Denk's playing is likewise elegant and refined, with clear voicing and a sense of symbiosis with the viola. The album also contains a transcription of the Op. 78 Violin Sonata (heard here in the key of D, similar to the familiar transcription for cello) in which Díaz and Denk provide an entirely convincing performance of which Brahms' surely would have approved.

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