Wallfisch Plays Brahms

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BRAHMS: Cello Sonatas Nos. 2 & 1. Violin Sonata in A min.: III. Scherzo / Rafael Wallfisch, cel; John York, pno / Nimbus NI5972

When you come right down to it, this should be the only Wallfisch-Plays-Brahms CD that Nimbus should be releasing since he only wrote these two cello sonatas, but they’re planning a Vol. 2 in which Wallfisch plays cello versions of the two clarinet sonatas and one of the violin sonatas (as here, where he plays the third movement of the violin sonata in A minor). I have to admit, I simply do not “get it” with these transcriptions of other sonatas (not just by Wallfisch, of course) for instruments that have no business playing them, but it seems to be the big fad nowadays. Apparently, people just can’t get enough of these tonal Romantic pieces. As for me, I can listen to them occasionally but I don’t live or die by them.

As for the current disc, Wallfisch plays Brahms in a straightforward style (which I like) with minimal use of rubato or rallentando effects, and pianist John York is a crisp, wide-awake accompanist. I was, however, somewhat put off by the microphone placement, which tended to make Wallfisch’s tone sound a bit hard and (to my ears) artificial, almost as if he were playing the cello with an electronic pickup on the instrument. Of course, you can’t blame the artist for this; it is most assuredly the work of the recording engineer; but I don’t have to like it, either.

And oddly, this defect doesn’t seem to have been applied to York’s piano, which sounds perfectly clear and natural. Compare this to Zuill Bailey’s outstanding recording of the Brahms cello sonatas with pianist Awadagin Pratt. Not only Pratt’s piano, but also Bailey’s cello, come across with a warm, natural sound, and I like Bailey’s approach to the music as much as I like Wallfisch’s.

Still, as I say, Wallfisch’s interpretations are very fine and do full justice to the music. He is delicate in the slow movements without resorting to sentimentality, and his strongly-accented pizzicato adds backbone to the music. I have to admit that Wallfisch also plays the violin sonata “Scherzo” very well for a cellist, but to my ears the music sounds all wrong in this key. I think Brahms might have agreed with me or he would have transcribed it for cello.

As for the first sonata, I don’t think anyone has done it as well as Emanuel Feuermann, whose finely-honed, manicured tone suits the music perfectly, but Wallfisch does add his own touches.

And that’s about it!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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