James Greening-Valenzuela

Fauré, Brahms: Sonatas for Violin & Piano

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With so many recordings available of the Fauré Op. 13 Violin Sonata and especially of the Brahms Op. 100 Sonata, new artists face an uphill battle to produce renditions that rise above the well-established alternatives and give listeners reasons to choose their album instead. This is a battle that is not won by violinist James Greening-Valenzuela and pianist Madeleine DeMory Hsu on the present CD. The primary issue is sound quality of the recording, which doesn't do any favors for either artist. The violin's sound is very distant and hazy. Such a sound quality almost works for Fauré, but certainly not for Brahms where a focused, robust sound would be much preferred. The piano's sound is more present and rich than the violin, but the left hand becomes indistinct and muddy, particularly in the more dense scoring of the Brahms. Greening-Valenzuela's interpretation of these two works is very consistent -- too consistent, in fact, because there's very little difference in the way he approaches the works of two vastly different composers. In the higher registers of his instrument, Greening-Valenzuela's tone seems quite forced and labored; intonation suffers as a result, particularly when playing octaves such as those found in the first movement of the Fauré. The relationship between violin and piano does not always come across as one of true chamber music, but rather two musicians each playing their own part in isolation. This is particularly true in the Brahms, which is as much a piano sonata as it is a violin sonata.

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