MARK GRESHAM | 28 MAR 2021
Johannes Brahms wrote a total of three sonatas for violin and piano, plus and early Scherzo. In this past Friday’s streamed “Bach’s Lunch” noontime concert from First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, violinist David Coucheron and pianist William Ransom performed the first two of the Violin Sonatas: No. 1 in G major, Op. 78 and No. 2 in A major, Op. 100. This was the final “Bach’s Lunch” of the 2020-21 season presented by Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta in collaboration with Concerts@First.
Nicknamed the “Regensonate” (“Rain Sonata”), Brahms composed his Violin Sonata No. 1 during the two summers of 1878 and 1879 in Pörtschach am Wörthersee, a picturesque summer resort in the Klagenfurt-Land district of Carinthia, in southern modern-day Austria. It was premiered on November 8, 1879 in Bonn, by the husband and wife duo of violinist Robert Heckmann and pianist Marie Heckmann-Hertig.
The Violin Sonata No. 2 was another product of summer, written in 1886 while Brahms was in Thun, located in the Bernese Oberland – the southern highlands of the canton of Bern, Switzerland. It is the shortest and most radiant of Brahms’s three violin sonatas as well as the most musically challenging, especially in terms of balancing its lyrical and virtuosic aspects.
In this video stream, the audio sounded “distant” rather than having a compelling feeling of “presence,: and also a bit unbalanced, with the piano dominating the violin more than I care for, which is not the norm I have come to expect from First Presbyterians’ video streaming. Despite the well-known skills and musicality of Coucheron and Ransom, I found this performance of the somber though not gloomy Sonata No. 1 to not fully hold my attention, and felt it both somewhat weighted down and seeming a lot longer than its roughly 27 minutes duration.
Although still performed within the same technical audio environment, the shade lifted with much sunnier Sonata No. 2, more breathing space and feeling of moving forward (but not rushed), matching the meaning of the rare marking “Allegro amabile” — literally a friendly fast tempo. Although this sonata is the more challenging in musical expression, in this instance it came off much better than the first Sonata. It more easily held the listener’s ear with its better balance between instruments, good momentum and overall brighter disposition. This Sonata No. 2 comfortably clocked in right at 20 minutes, which was just enough. ■