Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata No. 1 in G major for Violin and Piano, Op. 78 (1879) [26:17]
Sonata No. 2 in A major for Violin and Piano, Op. 100 (1886) [19:28]
Sonata No. 3 in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 108 (1886-88) [20:51]
Georg Kulenkampff (violin)
Georg Solti (piano)
rec. January 1947 (No.1) and July 1948 (Nos 2 and 3), Radio Studio, Zurich

Georg Kulenkampff (1898-1948) left Germany for Switzerland in 1943 and for the remaining years of his sadly curtailed life based himself in the country. He took over Carl Flesch’s teaching position in Lucerne in 1944. However, it was to Zurich that Decca sent the experienced recording producer Victor Olof to capture the Hanseatic violinist and his piano accompanist, the then little-known Georg Solti, in Brahms’s Violin Sonata No.1. The Decca team in London must have approved. Recording engineer Rolf Liebermann had done a fine job and so the following year out went Olof again, this time with Kenneth ‘Wilko’ Wilkinson in tow, to wrap up the sonata sequence. Each sonata was released separately – this was still the day of the 78.

These sonata performances have been reissued over the years in various forms. The first time I heard them was on an Ace of Clubs LP, though they were also reissued by Richmond. Subsequent CD reissues have brought them to wider attention and now Pristine, with the use of XR re-mastering, has ventured forth with its own reissue.

Having recently reviewed a revisionist set of the sonatas that seemed to think that playing them all at a single unvaryingly fast tempo was a sensible thing to do, it has been a pleasure to return to Kulenkampff and Solti for readings of aristocratic probity. Their approach to metrics is flexible but rigorously musical. Kulenkampff could be fervid in concert as a number of live broadcasts show – the Sibelius Concerto with Furtwängler for one but Podium Legend has a raft of live material too – though in the studio there was generally a controlled and refining eloquence about his playing. The lyricism of the slow movement in the Sonata in G is especially well conveyed and his unindulgent, subtly inflected and expressive playing graces the finale with a sense of logical development. Deft portamenti were part of his arsenal though he was by and large quite a clean player in that respect. His approach to these sonatas remains lofty, vibrato noticeably increasing in both amplitude and width in the finale of the Sonata in A where both musicians judge things beautifully. Both also choose unexceptional tempi but ones that always move decisively forward, a product of an acute rhythmic sensibility, and that invokes a refined occasionally withdrawn quality. Whilst others are more superficially evocative in the slow movement of the D minor, for instance, Kulenkampff generates a quiet intensity and in the finale is full of sweep but also lyric bite.

The Second Sonata seems to have some small inherent problems regarding surface noise and it’s the one that has caused Andrew Rose the most problems in his restorations. Set against its companions, it sounds somewhat recessed sound-wise, though the tonal qualities of the two musicians still register strongly. An excellent restoration.

Jonathan Woolf