BRAHMS: VIOLA SONATAS & TRIO
GERALDINE WALTHER, viola
DAVID KOREVAAR, piano
ANDRÁS FEJÉR, cello
REVIEWSBEST OF 2014
Joseph Magil, American Record Guide
“[Geraldine Walther] is unquestionably a master of her instrument, with a warm, rich tone, spot-on intonation, and complete technical command. Her reading of the two sonatas with...David Korevaar makes the strongest case for performance of these works on the alternate instrument… Walther’s tempos are leisurely, emphasizing lyricism over drama... MSR’s recording, produced by Andrew Keener, is nicely balanced. This is as attractive a reading of the viola versions of these sonatas as I have heard. Recommended.”
Richard Kaplan, Fanfare Issue 38:1 [September/October 2014]
“Together, [Walther, Fejer and Korevaar] make a very rich, Central European sound. Textures are plush, colors are dark, and vibrato is wide, just as they should be for this music. As these musicians play together regularly at the University, ensemble is very tight and balances are perfect... I thoroughly enjoyed [the Trio], and the music flows like honey... Walther does a fine job with [the viola sonatas]... Walther and Korevaar’s approach to this music reminds me of Pinchas Zukerman and Marc Neikrug’s. This is roast beef, potatoes, and lager Brahms... this set is good enough to be your one and only, and though I slightly prefer Zukerman and Neikrug, the sound here is much richer and has more ambience and spatial placement... I should mention that Walther’s technique is flawless; her tone lush, deep, and perfectly controlled; and her intonation impeccable. She did, after all, win first prize in the William Primrose Viola Competition in 1979. Superb sound.”
Magil, American Record Guide [July/August 2014]
“[ * * * * * ] Wow. I’m not sure how much more I can say; I certainly wasn’t expecting this. Easily one of the best-played and recorded chamber music discs I have heard in a couple of years, and even easier one of the best recordings of the viola version of the sonatas I have even encountered... these are great recordings, and if you don’t own them in this form, you are now required to acquire them!"
Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [May 2014]
“Undeniably Walther-Korevaar-Fejér are exemplary in all three works.”
Howard Smith, Music & Vision [May 2014]
“Rick’s Pick … these two sonatas and one trio sound wonderful in this configuration, and violist Geraldine Walther is a brilliant advocate for them. Highly recommended to all classical collections.”
CD Hotlist for Libraries [April 2014]
“In these keenly insightful performances by violist Geraldine Walther; cellist András Fejér, and pianist David Korevaar, three of Brahms’ best-loved chamber works come up fresh as the day they first appeared. Not that there are no thorns among the roses, and it is to these artists’ credit that they integrate the great variety of moods and textures as smoothly and cohesively as if there were no problems at all. The key lies in the continuous engagement of all three performers with the music and with one another… David Korevaar, well-known for his Bach, Beethoven and Ravel, is one of those rare solo pianists who shine as bright in chamber music. Fejér was a founding member of the Takács String Quartet in Hungary in 1977, and Walther became its first American member in 2005, surprising the older hands with how quickly and smoothly she fit into the ensemble… Highly recommended."
Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [November 2013]
PROGRAM NOTESJOHANNES BRAHMS
TRIO, OP.114 (1891) | SONATAS, OP.120, NOS.1 & 2 (1894)
The story of Brahms’s inspiration for composing his works for clarinet is well known. Brahms had decided that he was finished with composing after completing his second string quintet, Op.111. After listening to the Meiningen Court Orchestra’s clarinetist, Richard Mühlfeld, perform a Weber Concerto, the Mozart Concerto and the Mozart Quintet, Brahms was so impressed with both the player and his instrument that he turned his mind to writing chamber music for the clarinet. Thus inspired, he completed a trio, a quintet and two sonatas for the instrument. It has often been suggested that publication of the viola versions of these clarinet works was an economic necessity. Given Brahms’s age and reputation by this time (he was in his late 50s, and had had a successful and friendly relationship with the publisher Simrock since 1859), I find myself skeptical. While the sound of the clarinet clearly had much to do with the evolution of the works recorded here, Brahms took great care, especially with the Op.120 Sonatas, to ensure that the viola versions were more than merely workable, going so far as to try them over with his longtime collaborator Joseph Joachim. It seems evident that Brahms felt the works were suited to viola (or even violin, in the case of the Op.120 Sonatas), and fully supported the publication of these works in the expectation that they could be performed beautifully on either instrument.
Of course, it is also possible that working with Mühlfeld helped convince Brahms of the utility of offering these works to violists from a practical standpoint, considering the limitations of early clarinets. In a letter to Clara Schumann, he wrote, “And now I have to tell you about something which will cause us both a little annoyance. Mühlfeld will be sending you his tuning fork, so that the grand piano with which he is to play may be tuned to it. His clarinet only allows him to yield very little to other instruments. In case your piano differs very much in pitch and you do not wish to use it for this purpose, perhaps Marie will sacrifice herself and allow her grand piano to be tuned to Mühlfeld’s fork?”
The tone of Brahms’s late writing, including the later solo piano works (Opp.116-119) and the Four Serious Songs for bass (Op.121) is autumnal, avoiding the higher registers of the piano and using instruments with low tessituras: one account of Mühlfeld’s playing mentions his exceptionally beautiful lower register. With the exception of the finale of the F minor Sonata, these works all tend to the darker side of the emotional spectrum. The stormy E-flat minor final section of the second Op.120 Sonata—a surprise in the context of the variations that precede it—parallels the pattern of the Rhapsody that concludes the Op.119 piano pieces, which also begins in E-flat major, only to end in a tempestuous E-flat minor.
The earliest of these three works, the Trio, Op.114, is set in A minor—a key which well fits the dark sound and low register of the clarinet in A. The viola assumes this role perfectly as well; Brahms often brings the cello into its higher range to better match the dusky lower register of the other instrument. The piano complements the sound of the strings, more often than not providing the bass to the cello’s tenor. The entire work is more thoughtful and less virtuosic than its predecessors in Brahms’s chamber music oeuvre. Here we find little of the obvious virtuosity of the D minor violin sonata, Op.108, or the exuberant energy of the F major cello sonata, Op.99. Rather, Brahms turns to more introverted expression and sparer textures than had been his habit. The first movement has the look and feel of an earlier era, filled with two-note slurs and themes built from the most basic of musical materials. The sound is often hollow and without the Romantic richness we expect in Brahms. The evocation of the past is clearest at the end of the movement, where the open fifths and stepwise motion of the piano part suggest Gregorian chant. The D major second movement brings us to a much warmer place, opening with a beautifully spun out phrase in the viola, answered by the cello. This sonata-form Adagio is one of Brahms’s most heartfelt slow movements, and shows his mastery of rhythmic pacing, dramatic and textural contrast, and melodic writing. Particularly effective is the use of the lowest registers of all three instruments. The third movement, marked Andantino grazioso, is a graceful and nostalgic dance movement with two contrasting trios—more a remembrance of a Ländler than an actual dance, although the second trio, in D major, manages a level of exuberance that suggests a fleeting joyful memory of ballrooms past. The finale is energetic, passionate, even violent at times. Brahms mixes 6/8 and 2/4 meters to create alternately jagged and gentle moods. Where the cello’s opening theme in the first movement invited a kind of passionate contemplation, the same instrument’s opening here presents a level of energy that evokes frustrated rage—a moment when perhaps Brahms is less than accepting of the twilight of his creative life. No quarter is given: the energy and power of the conclusion show that the nostalgia of the earlier movements has been supplanted by something approaching anger.
The two Sonatas offer contrasting emotional worlds. The tempo indications of the respective opening movements give a good indication of the journeys to come: the F minor Sonata opens Allegro appassionato, the E-flat Sonata begins with an Allegro amabile. The F minor Sonata is in four movements. The Allegro appassionato first movement begins with a stark and constrained idea presented in bare octaves by the piano. The viola responds with passionate leaps, eloquently expanding the emotional and musical compass. As the music develops, each instrument has a distinctive voice in a musical conversation at times passionate, at times glowingly intimate. The movement ends in quiet resignation. The A-flat major Andante is beautifully simple, with the viola presenting a long, lyrical melody based on a descending scale. The dance movement, also in A-flat, is elegant and graceful, with a restrained trio section that returns us to the F-minor key of the first movement. The exuberant and virtuosic Vivace in F major is playful and joyous, with a threenote peal of bells dominating all of the thematic material.
The E-flat Sonata is more introverted throughout, in spite of the outbursts of octaves in the piano part that occur in all three movements. The opening movement is simple yet expansive, affectionate and not without optimism, with long themes and clean textures. The second movement, in the form of a dark scherzo, begins in E-flat minor with an impassioned theme in the viola. The B major Trio is noble and warm, with a processional flavor. The final third movement, unusually, is a set of variations on a lovely Andante con moto theme in 6/8 time. The first three variations take advantage of the lilting quality of the meter to gracefully develop in speed, moving from sixteenth-note syncopations to dancing sixteenth triplets to thirty-second note passages dovetailing between the piano and viola. The fourth variation stops the motion, creating a lovely sense of suspension and stillness before the stormy Allegro finale in E-flat minor. The finale presents two contrasting variations (E-flat minor and E-flat major) followed by a coda that finishes the movement in a swirl of surprising syncopations and virtuosity from both players. Prose somehow doesn’t do justice to this music. Having played these pieces many times over many years with both viola and clarinet, I am continually amazed by the colorful sounds and emotional worlds Brahms creates. From my point of view as a performer, this is music to be felt, to be sung, to be danced—it is music to live through and live by. The same could perhaps be said of any of Brahms’s works, but this group of pieces, written by the great composer at the end of his life, somehow says even more. The music encompasses not only the craft of a master, but also the joys and sorrows, yearnings and regrets of a place and a time in the most intimate and personal way possible. David Korevaar, October 2013
Geraldine Walther, violist of the Takács String Quartet since 2005, plays 80 concerts world wide annually. She was the Principal Violist of the San Francisco Symphony for 29 years, having previously served as assistant principal of the Pittsburgh and Baltimore symphony orchestra and Miami Philharmonic. A native of Florida, Walther first picked up the viola in a public school music program in Tampa. She went on to study at the Manhattan School of Music with Lillian Fuchs and at the Curtis Institute with Michael Tree of the Guarneri Quartet. In 1979, she won first prize at the William Primrose International Competition. With the San Francisco Symphony, Walther performed concertos by Mozart, Telemann, Berlioz, Hindemith Tippett, Martinu, Walton, Piston, Henze, Musgrave, Bartók, Schnittke, Penderecki and William Schuman. She also premiered several important works with the Orchestra, by composers including Takemitsu, Lieberson, Holloway and Benjamin. In 1995, Walther was selected by Sir Georg Solti to be a member of his Musicians of the World to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. In 2011, she was awarded the Order of Merit Officer’s Cross of the Republic of Hungary and also as a Member for the Takács Quartet, was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Award in the Chamber Music and Song category. In 2012, the Quartet was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame and is currently Associate Artists of the Wigmore Hall in London. Walther has participated in leading chamber music festivals, including Marlboro, Santa Fe, Tanglewood, Bridgehampton, Cape Cod, Amelia Island, the Telluride, Seattle, and Green Music Festivals, and Music@Menlo. She has collaborated with such artists as Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman, and Jaime Laredo, and has appeared as a guest artist with the Tokyo, Vermeer, Guarneri, Lindsay, Cypress and St. Lawrence string quartets. In addition to her recordings for Hyperion with the Takács Quartet, Walther’s recordings include Hindemith’s Trauermusik and Der Schwanendreher with the San Francisco Symphony (London/Decca), Paul Chihara’s Golden Slumbers with the San Francisco Chamber Singers (Albany), Lou Harrison’s Threnody (New Albion), Delectable Pieces as a member of the Volkert Trio (Con Brio) and True Divided Light: Chamber Music by David Carlson (MSR Classics).
David Korevaar performs an extensive repertoire as a soloist and chamber musician, and has been a guest artist with internationally acclaimed orchestras and ensembles. Korevaar is the Peter and Helen Weil Professor of Piano at the University of Colorado Boulder and a member of the Clavier Trio, currently ensemble-in-residence at the University of Texas in Dallas. He is a regular participant as performer and teacher at Colorado’s Music in the Mountains summer festival and the Music Center Japan. Korevaar earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Juilliard School, studying piano with the Earl Wild and composition with David Diamond. Later, working with Abbey Simon, Korevaar received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Juilliard and was honored with the Richard French award for his doctoral document on Ravel’s Miroirs. Other honors include top prizes from the University of Maryland William Kapell International Piano Competition (1988) and the Peabody-Mason Music Foundation (1985), as well as a special prize for his performance of French music from the Robert Casadesus Competition (1989). He continues to explore French music, both as a performer and as a scholar, with recordings and publications devoted to the music of Ravel and Fauré and work on the music collection of Ricardo Viñes, the first performer of many important works by Debussy and Ravel. Highly active as a recording artist, Korevaar’s recent recording of J.S. Bach’s Partitas (MSR Classics) showcases his exquisite musical sensitivity and fine technique, and marks his 26th recording and his fourth dedicated to the music of Bach. His other recordings have explored a wide range of solo and chamber music, from Beethoven and Brahms to Dohnányi and Lowell Liebermann. A web-based exploration of fugues from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier by Korevaar and Tim Smith received top honors from MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) both in music and overall, including the Editors’ Choice Award. Korevaar and Smith have recently collaborated on an exploration of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. [www.davidkorevaar.com]
András Fejér, cellist of the Takács String Quartet, was born in Hungary in 1955 into a musical family. At the Franz Liszt Academy, he studied with Ede Banda, András Mihaly, Ferenc Rados and György Kurtag. In 1975, he founded the Takács String Quartet with three classmates and has been a member ever since. He is a winner of the Evian, Budapest and Portmouth-London competitions, and has toured extensively, appearing in all the musical centers of the world, including Beethoven cycles in New York, Paris, London, Madrid, Sydney, Cleveland and Los Angeles and Bartók cycles in New York, London, Madrid, Tokyo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. As a recording artist with the Takács String Quartet, Fejér has more than 30 CDs to his credit, ranging from Haydn to Bartók. Their recordings for London-Decca, including the complete quartets of Bartók and Beethoven, have won three Gramophone Awards, a Grammy Award, three Japan Record Academy Chamber Music Awards, the BBC Music Disc of the Year Award and the Classical Brits Award for Ensemble Album of the Year. Since 1986, Fejér has been professor of chamber music and a Christoffersen Fellow at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a visiting fellow at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He also gives annual master classes at the Aspen Festival and School and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. In addition to his performance with the Takács String Quartet and his teaching posts, he has also remained active as a soloist.
PROGRAMJOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)
TRIO IN A MINOR for Viola, Violoncello and Piano, Op. 114 (1891)
I. Allegro – Poco meno allegro
III. Andantino grazioso
SONATA IN F MINOR for Viola and Piano, Op. 120 No. 1 (1894)
I. Allegro appassionato – Sostenuto ed espressivo
II. Andante un poco adagio
III. Allegretto grazioso
SONATA IN E-FLAT MAJOR for Viola and Piano, Op. 120 No. 2 (1894)
I. Allegro amabile
II. Allegro appassionato – Sostenuto – Tempo I
III. Andante con moto – Allegro – Più tranquillo