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Sonatas Nos.1-3, Scherzo in C minor

Johannes Brahms




“There were high expectations [of this CD] even before I’d pressed play. What followed lived up to those expectations, and more…  At first I was unsure why [the Scherzo in C Minor] was selected to be on this disc of full sonatas without its counterparts. As soon as I started listening the reason became apparent. It works as a great opener. It’s exciting and gives listeners a taste of typical Brahms chamber music, preparing us for the sound-world in which they are about to immerse themselves. The sheer amount of character in the violin alone (a 1757 model by J.B. Guadagnini) is instantly apparent, and what a beautiful instrument it is. Combined with the immensely skilful playing of Ms. Sant'Ambrogio, it is a delight to hear… The ‘Sonata in G Major’ is very lyrical, and the call and response sections between piano and violin are nicely balanced. Throughout the disc the instruments and players never overwhelmed each other. Each has his or her role and a distinctive character yet these are voiced without damaging the blend. There is no fight for dominance between the instruments, which is very nice to hear. Sant’Ambrogio and Winn are clearly experienced in performing together, and their combined musicianship is astounding… There is a directness of expression in Brahms' melodic writing that is remarkably intense, and it is recreated here remarkably well… [this disc] took me to a whole new level of admiration, not least because of the remarkable musicianship of these two performers… it really is a wonderful disc, and whether you are being introduced to Brahms for the first time or are a seasoned Brahms lover, this recording is a strong contender. “
Jake Barlow, MusicWeb International [March 2014]
“[Sant’Ambrogio’s Brahms is played] with immaculate technique, impeccable intonation, lustrous tone, and emotional warmth… these are congenial, warmhearted, communicative readings… I do appreciate Sant’Ambrogio’s approach to the use of vibrato as an expressive device, moderating its speed and intensity in response to the music’s ebb and flow. I also applaud her for including the C-Minor Scherzo, Brahms’s contribution to the Sonata presented as a gift to Joseph Joachim… [James Winn] makes a sympathetic and well-matched partner for Sant’Ambrogio in these Brahms sonatas… [The recording] is excellent…”
Jerry Dubins, Fanfare [March/April 2014]
“Over twenty years passed before Brahms felt satisfied with what he was to call his first sonata, Sonata in G, Op 78. In this performance there is a finely balanced partnership between violin and piano, and a flexibility that is clearly apparent in the opening movement… The second Sonata in A, Op 100, to my ear the most sublime, is played here with warmth and expansiveness… Compositionally following close on the heels of the second, the third sonata, Sonata in D minor, Op 108 sets challenges of contrast which are adequately met in a performance that has the violin in the hands of a highly sensitive performer and the accompaniment under the control of an understanding composer who appreciates both subtlety and delicacy… These are splendid performances, an excellent introduction to newcomers to these superb works, and a delight for listeners who can appreciate the authority and tenderness of fresh interpretations"
Patric Standford, Music & Vision [February 2014]
“[James Winn plays] an historical piano, the 1909 New York Steinway D owned by the University of Nevada, Reno. A softer sound comes from this instrument, and the player keeps his dynamics very much below his partner’s. Sant’ Ambrogio plays very softly too, and the effect is intimate… Jeffrey Sykes’s booklet notes are exemplary.”
Magil, American Record Guide [January/February 2014]
“I have pretty much liked everything that I have heard by Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, so I am not surprised to enjoy this recording of the Brahms sonatas…. those who are brave enough to enter this highly competitive market often come across with new insights. Sant’Ambrogio does just that. This is not gutsy, take-no-prisoners Brahms, and that will upset those who feel that unadulterated masculinity must be present in every bar. No, she takes her own road in this music, exercising a sublime and intensely lyrical approach that suits the music very well and fully fits the function of song so explicit in several of the sonatas… these are works of constant repose and reflection [and] Sant’Ambrogio seems to understand this intuitively, and though it cannot by any means be said that she lacks power when needed, those passages are always within the context of what happens before and after, and never from a sense of doctrinal purpose or predetermined cause as to how these sonatas actually “go”. er partner in this, James Winn, accepts and articulates this same vision with playing that supports, leads when needed, but most of all matches her in technical acumen and various shades of color, something often ignored in this music. This is a fine issue, deliciously recorded in the warm atmospherics of Wells Fargo Auditorium in Reno, and can be recommended without reservation and no little enthusiasm.”
[ * * * * ] Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [August 2013]
“Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio and James Winn…give one more distinguished account of themselves in Johannes Brahms’ three Violin Sonatas pus the early Scherzo in C minor, WoO3. As in their earlier MSR Classics release “Late Dates with Mozart” (MS1305), Sant’Ambrogio cultivates an elegantly seamless, slender tone in the high sustained notes and passages. But she rises to the occasion in the moments of denser chromatic texture and heightened emotion, and Winn keeps the pacing and the numerous changes in tempo well under control… Sant’Ambrogio and Winn are equally well equipped, temperamentally and technically, to handle the lyrical impulse that is so noticeable in all three sonatas… Their affinity for the lyricism in all these works gives Sant’Ambrogio and Winn an advantage over most of the competition (and it is keen). But their mastery of Brahms’ ever-shifting moods and textures, his use of cyclic form in Sonata No. 1 and his call for the purest cantabile from the violin in the finale of No. 2 require sophisticated artistry of the first order. In No. 3, the technical demands – including a subito forte in the piano and bariolage bowing in the violin, plus considerable use of syncopated rhythms and off-beat accents, all in the opening movement – are extreme. Elsewhere, we have sudden modulations and crescendos, double-stopping and quasi- improvised arpeggios in the violin in the slow movement, and then a breakneck symphonic frenzy as the finale hurtles to its conclusion. None of this is for the faint of heart. Sant’Ambrogio and Winn take it all in stride.”
Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [August 2013]
Brahms wrote for the combination of violin and piano throughout his lifetime. The Scherzo in C minor of 1853 is among the earliest of his compositions that survive. From the late 1850s to the early 1870s, Brahms wrote several violin sonatas, inspired by friendships with prominent violinists. Because they were not up to his exacting standards, he destroyed them. No trace of the music remains, but the practice clearly honed Brahms’ compositional skills. In 1879, when he finally completed a violin sonata he felt was worth publishing, his compositional prowess was at its full height. He followed this “first” sonata with two more sonatas in 1886 and 1888. The three sonatas maintain the highest level of craftsmanship and yet remain unhampered in their melodic and harmonic invention, spontaneity, and excitement. Violinists are fortunate that Brahms gave them three such masterpieces from his artistic maturity.

Described as a “violinist who most often takes your breath away” by Gramophone Magazine, Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio enjoys a varied performing and recording career as a soloist, chamber
musician and orchestral leader. She has performed as a soloist and chamber musician throughout
North and South America, Europe and Africa. Currently Associate Professor of Violin and Viola at the University of Nevada, Reno (, her students have won orchestra and teaching positions in the U.S. and abroad. Concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony from 1994-2007, she founded and has been Artistic Director of Cactus Pear Music Festival ( since 1997. Former First Assistant Principal Second Violin of The Cleveland Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnany, she toured and recorded internationally with this ensemble for eight seasons. With a discography of over seventy-five orchestral and chamber music CDs, Ms. Sant’Ambrogio also serves as Concertmaster of California’s Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra and the Lancaster Festival Orchestra in Ohio.

Piano and composition professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and principal keyboard of both the Reno Philharmonic and Reno Chamber Orchestras since 1997, James Winn made his debut with the Denver Symphony at the age of thirteen, and has been performing widely in North America, Europe, and Japan ever since. Top prize-winner of the 1980 A.A.R.D. International Competition in Munich with duo piano partner Cameron Grant, Dr. Winn has been solo pianist with the New York City Ballet, New York New Music Ensemble, Hexagon, Speculum, Bargemusic, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Well-known as a specialist in new music, his own compositions have been performed internationally and he has been involved in numerous premieres and premiere recordings by renowned composers, among them over a dozen Pulitzer Prize winners.



I. Vivace ma non troppo
II. Adagio
III. Allegro molto moderato

I. Allegro amabile
II. Andante tranquillo
III. Allegretto grazioso

I. Allegro
II. Adagio
III. Un poco presto e con sentimento
IV. Presto agitato

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