New Classical Tracks: A musical olive branchby Valerie Kahler, Minnesota Public Radio
Julia Fischer - Johannes Brahms Violin concerto & Double Concerto with Daniel Muller-Schott, cello and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Yakov Kreizberg conducting. (Pentatone 066)
St. Paul, Minn. — "All he cares about is being undisturbed in the bliss he encounters in his music -- in his belief in searching for a higher, fantastic world." Joseph Joachim, about Brahms.
When violinist Joseph Joachim's marriage was falling apart and heading toward divorce, he was also dealing with another estrangement -- that from his longtime pal and collaborator, Johannes Brahms. Brahms, it seems, had taken the lady's side in this battle. Time passed with no word between the old friend, but then Brahms began work on a promised commission: a concerto for the cellist in Joachim's string quartet. As a gesture of friendship -- and musical good sense -- Brahms worked the cello concerto into one for cello and violin: one of history's most dramatic -- and lovely--olive branches.
Violinist Julia Fischer is joined by cellist Daniel Muller-Schott for the gorgeous performance of the double concerto on Fischer's new CD, which also includes the Brahms Violin Concerto in D.
Fischer's playing isn't gritty or beefy, but do you really need gristle in your Brahms? She has a focused, warm sound and is well-matched by Muller-Schott, whose tone really shines in his opening cadenza.
From the moment they met, Joachim and Brahms were the best of friends. They were collaborators, intellectual sparring partners, even roommates for a spell. Joachim seemed to be in awe of Brahms the artist and affectionately exasperated, amused, or both by Brahms the man. He wrote to a friend once that Brahms was such a complete egotist that it never even occurred to him he might be one.
A long-standing element of their friendship was the use of a musical code -- specifically the notes F, A and E. Joachim had adopted this as his personal motto, the letters an abbreviation for Frei, aber einsam -- "Free, but lonely." Brahms' characteristically happy-go-lucky response was F, A, F: Frei, aber froh ("Free, but happy").
Brahms and other composers worked the FAE motif into many a composition for Joachim, although not always in that exact order. Listen for the violin's second entrance in the first movement -- here it's F, E, A. Even slightly disguised, the code was recognized by its intended recipient, and the old friends were back on track.
Julia Fischer and Daniel Muller-Schott play chamber music together pretty regularly and their rapport is evident. They both have incredible poise, and an almost jazz-like way of lingering on a note or sitting comfortably with a crucial silent moment. There's a type of virtuoso whose performance reminds us how hard this stuff is, and then there's the type who makes us forget.