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 Post subject: Brahms Viola Sonata Op.120 No.1
PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 7:31 am 
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Here's the first recording I made with my viola partner Alexander van Wassenaer. The first of the two late Brahms sonatas for clarinet and piano, which the composer reworked for viola and piano (a common kind of adaptation as clarinet and viola compare well in timbre and range). By 1894,
Brahms had all but resigned from composing, but his inspriration was once more sparked by his making acquaintance with the famous clarinettist Richard Muhlhausen. In a tremendous burst of creative energy he produced two of the finest works of his entire chamber music oeuvre (which already represents the pinnacle of that genre). Far from a 'last flicker of the flame' these are works
full of passion, tenderness, and classical poise, as well as Brahms's quirky humour. Personally I like the viola versions better that the originals for clarinet.

We have been working on these sonatas for about two years now (along with other stuff) and there is still much to be improved - Alex's intonation as well as my technical finish. Darned difficult sonatas these are but worth the effort. The piano is an old but nice Steinway upright from 1925 or so. Forgot the viola make but I believe it's a good Italian one.

Should you plan to listen to this, you'll have to make some allowances for the string tone. We pianists take a pure tone for granted, but for the string player, especially the amateur, this 'simple' thing is the greatest challenge. Apart from that, the peculiar timbre of the viola tone, like an alto voice, may take a bit of getting used to. Obviously, we'll need to be re-record this some time. But it's a start. I hope this can be enjoyed despite the flaws, and I would appreciate any feedback you may have to offer.

1: Allegro appasionato
2: Andante un poco Adagio
3: Allegretto grazioso
4: Vivace

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 11:09 am 
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I just listened to all movements. First, my sincere respect for you both since I know that those Brahms sonata aren't easy, neither for viola (that would not be my problem :lol: ) but too for piano. My cousin plays the viola too, professionally, and asked me to do a Brahms sonata. I refused since I would not have time anymore for other solo things (and opted for an easier Schubert sonata instead).

First impression: Overall well done, I like the expression you both put into the music, and Brahms is always a pleasure to listen to. Especially very good is your piano part. You could work as professional piano accompanist, if your technical profession would start to get boring. Along with your phenomenal sight reading ability, what is in so high demand as correpetitor and very few have this abilitiy!
I really tried to overlook the intonation problems of the viola, and I know that as piano player one has it so much easier regarding this. And I like also that earthy tone of the viola, everything, but it is always the intonation problem what impacts the pleasure of listening. Maybe the viola player could stand closer to you to hear better the piano?

I did not hear much wrong notes, and also the Upright sounds really good. The sound balance between viola and piano is ok, but of course it would be better to have separate mics to be able to mix it later with CoolEdit to have optimal sound balance and also stereo effect.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 11:42 am 
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Indeed, Brahms is never easy. It took me a long time to get the hang of the piano part, and apart from that, the rhythmic interplay between the two instruments poses formidable problems in places. I do not just rely on the sightreading here - had to practise long and hard before getting comfortable with it. Still quite some slips, more than usual actually. And a whole stretch were we were horribly out of sync (which does not usually happen either). Blame it on the microphone.

Yeah that viola tone... it is quite awful in places, I know. Alex knows it too - he is dreading the moment he's got to listen back to himself on the CD I'll burn. He does not want to, the chicken sod, but I will make him... It is character building and an essential step towards better playing. I hope one day we can produce a rendering that does not cause one's hairs to stand on end. Thanks for listening anyway !

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 11:46 am 
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Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this. On the first movement, at .24, the little run on the viola, I thought, "Oh, boy. This isn't going to be easy." I grew up with a sister who played violin and remember the torture of listening to her practice, and re-tune all the time. It was painful. But your friend got better after that and I could actually appreciate the music.

I really loved the second movement. Something about how music drops down by half-steps or whole, (not sure) as in 1.28 , it always 'gets me.' I just loved this. Also, the main theme in the third movement is great. The piano part in the fourth movement stole the show, for me, anyway. You played great.

And I didn't know that an upright Steinway sounded so good. One thing about the overall sound. I could hear reverb on the piano but not on the viola. Your sound had a nice, mellow, smooth sound, but the viola sounded dry. If you can add reverb to your friend, he would sound better.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 12:07 pm 
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pianolady wrote:
And I didn't know that an upright Steinway sounded so good. One thing about the overall sound. I could hear reverb on the piano but not on the viola. Your sound had a nice, mellow, smooth sound, but the viola sounded dry. If you can add reverb to your friend, he would sound better.

Yes I have come to love that instrument, it really is a good one and plays like the devil. I added the usual reverb to these tracks, but I think what you hear is the piano itself. It has a huge natural 'fade', it literally takes seconds for the sound to die away. His tuner said it's normal for instruments of this period. Sunday I played with my violin partner on her even older Erard upright, and this had very similar features.

Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for the compliments. I still have the outer movements from the 3rd Bach Gamba Sonata but had no time yesterday to post them. These might be better in terms of string intonation.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 5:13 pm 
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I think there were some false notes for the violin

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 5:52 pm 
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rachmaninoff wrote:
I think there were some false notes for the violin

That might well be :wink: Not nearly as much as on the piano though, must be honest about that. Then again, I had more notes to play :lol:

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 8:10 pm 
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Brahms is never easy. Rather always very difficult.

I have only listened to the first movement and cannot give any constructive criticism as I do not know this sonata. As you point out Chris, pianist take the perfect tuned instrument for granted while this is the really difficult part of bandless instruments. I once knew a very good russian violin girl (cute as well) and even though she won prices in Russia (which should say something about her qualities), I could still easily spot a couple of notes out of tune in her performances. I think your collegue is doing really well so tell him that next time you see him.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 8:19 pm 
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For sure Alex is very serious and committed to the music. Being a high-profile investor he has far too little time to practice and I admire him for what he nevertheless can achieve. He's also taking lessons from the first viola player of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (who is very good indeed of course). If only he can get these dodgy intonations out the way we'll be doing fine yet. But I'm beginning to I think all string players play ugly notes when learning/perfecting a piece, right up to the final moment. And sometimes even then... Probably only the greatest who never slip.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Dec 20, 2006 4:18 am 
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I did enjoy that, Alex and Chris, despite the pitch issues. String players have my deepest respect. I don't think I could stand to practice the viola; playing an off note causes me physical pain. Since I don't know the first thing about this piece or the viola, I can't critique, either; however, I can agree that your piano playing is very good, Chris. I hear an artistic performance (which really is the point, no?) The technical stuff can be solved later. When you two get this sonata down pat, it will be really good. Congrats and best luck to you both!

I imagine we are all somewhat dismayed by listening to a flawed performance, but flaws go with the territory. Alex must listen, too; his performance just needs a little adjusting here and there. I look forward your future recordings.

Pete

ps I was getting a scherzando feel in the vivace, I like that.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 20, 2006 8:22 am 
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PJF wrote:
ps I was getting a scherzando feel in the vivace, I like that.

Thanks Pete. Yes it is very playful and humourous. Whoever thinks that Brahms is always heavy and serious should think again. Even in his late autumn he could charm the birds out of the trees.

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