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Violin Sonata No 3 in D minor, Op 108

'Brahms: The Complete Chamber Music' (CDS44331/42)
Brahms: The Complete Chamber Music
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'Brahms: The Three Violin Sonatas' (CDH55087)
Brahms: The Three Violin Sonatas
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Movement 1: Allegro
Track 7 on CDH55087 [7'56] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 7 on CDS44331/42 CD11 [7'56] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 2: Adagio
Track 8 on CDH55087 [4'52] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 8 on CDS44331/42 CD11 [4'52] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 3: Un poco presto e con sentimento
Track 9 on CDH55087 [2'43] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 9 on CDS44331/42 CD11 [2'43] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 4: Presto agitato
Track 10 on CDH55087 [5'24] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 10 on CDS44331/42 CD11 [5'24] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

Violin Sonata No 3 in D minor, Op 108
If G major and A major are essentially lyric keys for Brahms, D minor takes us back to the passions of the composer’s youth, to the First Piano Concerto and the First Ballade for piano, both works by turns brooding and violent. The theme of the finale of the Violin Sonata in D minor could certainly be imagined as a product of this period. The driving rhythm in 6/8 time recalls the C minor Scherzo of the sonata for Joachim, though the mature master now draws effortlessly from the new ideas to sustain a complete sonata movement in which the smallest figure may flower into something new. The textural balances between violin and piano, so carefully observed in the major-key sonatas are not as easily achieved here, and the piano part is much closer to Brahms’s later concerto manner than to chamber music: it seems not inappropriate that the work is dedicated to the great pianist, Brahms’s friend Hans von Bülow.

Things are more restrained in the first movement, the intensity of which is more inward and sustained from the very start. The sense of a controlled, ongoing line which will eventually break free becomes the preoccupation of the development section, a remarkable passage built entirely over a pedal on the fifth degree, A, which inhibits, though never resolves, the constantly shifting harmonies above it. Only when harmonic movement resumes in the reprise does the urge for freedom take over, with bold modulations which seem to announce the development proper, though the retransition to the home key and second theme is soon accomplished. The contrast offered by this lyrical theme, again given first to the piano, is greater than in the other sonatas, and one is very conscious of its vulnerability and transience when the sterner mood returns, though the return of the pedal, now on the tonic, D, leaves the tension at least temporarily resolved.

For the first time in these sonatas Brahms provides this work with two separate middle movements, though neither is expansive. The ‘Adagio’ captures the intensity of the slow movement of the G major sonata, though in a much shorter space: the power is here more closely associated with instrumental idiom, the suave thirds of the violin part at the climax touching the Hungarian manner so important to Joachim, by whom all Brahms’s violin writing was ultimately inspired. The third movement re-engages with the playful ‘Vivace’ character of the A major Sonata, though now from a greater distance and with a reflective restraint, as the final bars show. They offer a perfect foil to the strenuous finale to follow.

from notes by Michael Musgrave © 1991

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