CD Review: BRAHMS Violin Sonatas: No. 1 in G; No. 2 in A; No. 3 in d

04.08.11
Stefan Jackiw
Fanfare

By Jerry Dubins

Stefan Jackiw (vn); Max Levinson (pn) • SONY 70397 (70:38)

Had this arrived in the mail just a few days sooner, I could have included it in a triple-header review along with two other new releases of the Brahms violin sonatas with Anne-Sophie Mutter and Mark Fewer. But I’m glad it didn’t because it’s so good it deserves a stand-alone review of its own.

So who is this latest star, Stefan Jackiw? Well, he’s now 26, born in 1985 in Boston to a Korean mother and a German father of Ukrainian origin, both of whom are physicists. His introduction to the violin was through the Suzuki method. Later instruction came from Zinaida Gilels, French violinist Michèle Auclair, and Donald Weilerstein, former first violin of the Cleveland Quartet. For further information, I direct you to Jackiw’s Web site, stefanjackiw.com, where among other things you will find a link to several YouTube videos of Jackiw performing the Mendelssohn concerto with the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra in June of 2008, the Prelude to Bach’s Solo Partita No. 3, and a violin-piano version of Beethoven’s Romance No. 2.

Based on my viewing of those clips, I can tell you (1) that Jackiw has the longest, boniest fingers I’ve ever seen on a violinist—I swear he could reach a 12th without even stretching. Lean and lanky in appearance, he could be a modern-day Paganini. And (2) Jackiw is fantastic, without question the next big name, in billboard-sized lettering, to take the violin world by storm. According to his site, he gave a spectacular performance of the Sibelius concerto with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic at the close of his 2009–10 season. The Sibelius being my favorite violin concerto, I want Sony to produce a recording of Jackiw playing it forthwith.

Well, here, if you can believe it’s possible, we have Stefan Jackiw, who combines the best of both worlds. He produces a tone as rich and buttery as Fewer’s, and he seems to know intuitively just which notes to go for in the phrase to make that emotional point. It’s mid-fall here on the left coast as I write this, and I’m looking out my window watching the leaves dropping from the trees as I listen to this disc, the perfect backdrop to this music. That stab-in-the-heart moment arrives. Jackiw leans, not digs, into the D?-C double-stop with his bow, as hoped for, and then to make the moment more poignant, he swells slightly on it and backs off. That interpretive insight is the mark of not just an exceptionally fine player but of a musical artist of the highest caliber. That, and the falling leaves, made the tears flow, well before reaching the flowing tears of the last movement, based on the song from which the sonata takes its nickname, Regen (Rain).

It’s simple, really. This is now the recording of Brahms’s violin sonatas to have. It eclipses all of my previous favorites that I’ve cited numerous times in previous reviews. If Sony or some other label doesn’t record Jackiw in the entire mainstream violin repertoire just as fast as he can learn it, we will be missing out on hearing a young artist who may be well on his way to becoming one of the greatest violinists of the 21st century.

And oh yes, the recording is of state-of-the-art, audiophile quality. An imperative recommendation.