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While most casual concertgoers are familiar with his concertos or symphonies, Johannes Brahams reveals himself most intimately in his chamber and instrumental music.
Written over a decade in the second half of the 19th century, Brahms' violin sonatas present different sides of the German composer's art, much as a stroll around a sculpture reveals different angles and perspectives.
Violinist Stefan Jackiw, 23, offered a quick immersion into Brahms with the composer's three violin sonatas at Gusman Concert Hall for Sunday Afternoons of Music.
Brilliantly laid out, with equal challenges to violinist and pianist, the sonatas are varied but deceptively tricky to interpret, with the music alternating autumnal melancholy with aggressive bursts of energy.
Jackiw possesses a slender, silvery tone well suited to Brahms' intimate lyricism, and his pianist, Max Levinson, proved an equally idiomatic partner.
The opening movement of the Sonata No. 1 in G major was wholly sympathetic, and the refined sweetness of Jackiw's violin conveyed the music's relaxed reflection. In the ensuing Adagio, Jackiw and Levinson balanced stark introspection with the music's more adamant middle section, and Jackiw rendered the coda with a barely audible thread of tone.
Written seven years after the No. 1 was composed, the Sonata No. 2 in A major inhabits a similarly expressive world. Jackiw and Levinson put across the searching quality of the opening Allegro Amabile and the more aggressive contrasts of the second movement with gleaming tone and hair-trigger teamwork. The concluding Allegretto grazioso was especially well done. Despite some disarray at the coda, the men skillfully handled the music's rhapsodic ebb and flow.
Jackiw and Levinson clearly view Brahms' Sonata No. 3 in D minor as a more dramatic work and tackled it accordingly. Jackiw played the aggressive outer movements with suitable robust tone and the Adagio with a confiding tenderness. The duo handled the light caprice of the scherzo and the bristling, agitated finale with extraordinary intensity, rounding off an enjoyable, illuminating afternoon.