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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108 (1886-88) [22:56]
Viola Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 120 (1894) [20:14]
Rhapsodies, Op. 79 (1879): No. 1 in B minor [7:18]: No. 2 in G minor [5:34]
Intermezzi, Op. 117 (1892): No. 1 in E flat major [3:50]: No. 2 in B flat minor [3:17]: No. 3 in C sharp minor [5:30]
Ballades, Op. 10 (1854): No. 1 in D minor (“Edward”) [3:29]: No. 2 in D major [4:48]
Joseph Szigeti (violin)
Samuel Lifschey (viola)
Egon Petri (piano)
rec. 8 December 1937 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London (violin); 23-24 June 1941, Liederkranz Hall, New York (viola); First issued on Allegro-Royale 1630, released in 1955 (piano)

Petri and Szigeti’s 1937 recording of Brahms’ D minor sonata has long won exalted status and even a fine, earlier set by Kochanski and Rubinstein – hardly small names – is not that well-known. But the Abbey Road Columbia recording continues to be reissued; honours over the past decades have been done by EMI, Andante and Biddulph amongst others and now it appears contextualised in an all-Petri Brahms disc.

This is also an example of absolute instrumental and expressive equivalence between the two musicians. Petri is every inch Szigeti’s equal (and vice versa). It’s a performance that is, in places, of barely suppressed intensity but one that miraculously manages never to overstep stylistic bounds. Climaxes are wonderfully graded and the recorded balance between the two men is exemplary for the time.

Of much greater rarity is the recording Petri made in New York of the Viola Sonata No.1 with Samuel Lifschey (1889-1961). Lifschey was the long-serving (1925-55) principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski and Ormandy and his recording makes a valuable contrast to those made by the somewhat younger William Primrose which have tended to relegate this set, which has never before been transferred to LP or CD. The Liederkranz Hall acoustic is not as kind to the performers as was Studio No 3 Abbey Road four or so years earlier and the boxier sound has a slightly cramping effect. It’s also less sympathetic to Petri’s tone. Playing my own 78 set, which is noisy, alongside this transfer shows that Mark Obert-Thorn has had to use some noise suppression, which has dampened down the shellac hiss that he usually encourages the better to bring out the full range of the recording. Lifschey’s playing is splendid throughout – he was an outstanding technician and an imaginative, focused and forward-looking tonalist - and it’s of great value to bring his name before the public again as he’s only really known for his Don Quixote with Feuermann and Ormandy. That said, Mark Obert-Thorn isn’t quite correct to say that the Strauss is Lifschey’s only other ‘disc credit’, as the first side of the Brahms sonata set rather bizarrely consists of Lifschey’s own arrangements of the Gavottes I and II from Bach’s Cello Suite No 6 in D major.

The remainder of the disc is solo Petri and comes from an Allegro-Royale LP released in 1955. He had recorded the Op 79 Rhapsodies in 1940 and he is still as powerful; indeed, whilst some may prefer a rather more measured, magisterial approach to the G minor, Petri sounds impulse, dramatic and very exciting. He doesn’t sentimentalise the Op.117 set and characterises the Ballades with tonal amplitude and architectural wisdom. He may not be quite the technician he had been in the 30s but these are still very characterful and instructive readings.

Incidentally the CD has only enough room for the first two Op.10 Ballades, the D minor and the D major. Nos. 3 and 4 are available as a free download, in CD quality, to purchasers of the disc.

In total, then, one classic recording, one excellent never-before-reissued one, and a raft of solo discs, all attesting to Petri’s continuing significance as a Brahms exponent.

Jonathan Woolf

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