Vadim Gluzman's Consummate Brahms

How many times can one write "beautiful" before the word loses all meaning? And yet, what else can I say when Brahms' sole violin concerto, as well as his first Violin Sonata, are so profoundly touching, and played so exquisitely by violinist Vadim Gluzman, the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra under James Gaffigan, and pianist Angela Yoffe?

Although Vadim Gluzman has yet to receive the same attention as some of his contemporaries, in no small part due to his embrace of a long-term contract with the BIS hi-rez record label rather than Universal Classics, Sony, or Warner, his schedule for the year shows him performing with a number of the great orchestras, and in the great halls. (In the USA, those orchestras include the Boston and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras.) Distinguished by the company he keeps, Gluzman's season includes trio recitals with two exceptional partners—pianist Yevgeny Sudbin (piano) and cellist Johannes Moser—as well as duos with his wife, Yoffe. But even if he was performing with second rate artists in provincial venues, a listen to Gluzman's most recent release of the music of Johannes Brahms shows him as a rightful member of that line of great Russian violinists which, on record, includes the very different Heifetz, Milstein, Stern, Kogan, and, of course, Oistrakh.

First, there is Gluzman's tone. Far less dark and shrouded than some lower in the range, it rises to sweet, silvery, but nonetheless full-bodied highs that sing in a clear, heart-touching manner. The distinct color of Gluzman's highs contrasts with the octaves below them, and is distinguished by a purity that speaks of an unfailing single-minded devotion to art. Captured in 24/96, and auditioned by me in stereo SACD format, they never sound sweet for sweetness's sake—the excellent Joshua Bell comes to mind here—but rather because they so completely convey what Brahms's writing wishes to express.

When, in the Violin Concerto's final movement, Brahms calls for his soloist to bite into and even slash through notes, Gluzman responds in kind. But when he is allowed to sing and soar lyrically, as the concerto's consummately beautiful middle movement Adagio invites him to do, he is an equal master. Few violinists sound as heartfelt in this extended sigh.

This is not to say that tempi in the concerto's first movement could not do with more lyrical indulgence. As I listen to Sir Neville Marriner conduct Hilary Hahn with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and admire the way the two slowed down as she rose to the heights of the first theme, I wish that Gluzman and Gaffigan had done the same. There are, in fact, a number of places in this movement where I wish for more flexibility of tempo. Nonetheless, when I listen to Gluzman, I smile at how he opens his vibrato in wide embrace. That embrace only deepens in the final two movements, which strike me as perfect.

Brahms composed his Violin Sonata No.1 in 1878–1879, completing it right around the time that he invited the famed violinist, Joseph Joachim, to visit him on Lake Wörthersee in southern Austria so they could put finishing, pre-publication touches on the Concerto. The sonata's opening theme is incomparably lovely, and hard to get out of one's head. Its third movement derives from Brahms's song, "Regenlied" (Rain Song). Brahms wrote the song for pianist Clara Schumann (who was Robert Schumann's wife, and the woman Brahms was in love with) in 1873 after her violinist son, Felix—Brahms's godson—was diagnosed with incurable TB. While there is some darkness here, it is balanced by ample light and love.

The recording ends with a little dessert—the 5 or so minute scherzo from the F-A-E Sonata that Brahms, Schumann, and Albert Dietrich wrote for Joachim in 1853. After two minutes of animation, the scherzo once again dips into that shared heart from which so much of Brahms's music sings.

I've been wanting to review multiple Brahms recordings since beginning my stint as an online classical recording reviewer for Stereophile. Far too many have passed me by. More Brahms is coming soon, I promise. Until then, I hope you can find a way to hear this recording, preferably on a system that allows you to appreciate what Gluzman sounds like. At the risk of saying it again, his playing, and this music, are so, so beautiful.

pbarach's picture

He played Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Cleveland Orchestra (can't remember who conducted). It was a beautiful performance.

ToeJam's picture

Thank you Mr. Serinus for a heartfelt description of the performance and its technical and artistic characteristics. In response to your emotional reaction to it, I am compelled to purchase it in hopes of a similar experience.

I find content of this nature to be helpful in my efforts to branch out of old listening habits into unheard music.

As to a comment I made to you 1-2 years ago regarding political references in reviews, I’d like to apologize as I was childish and in bad taste. I truly regret that.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Some people throw out the baby with the bathwater, as it were. It is to your credit that you have been able to transcend differences and find what there is of value to you in my writing. Thank you again.

dalethorn's picture

HDTracks wins the incompetence award yet again. After their custom Download Manager said "Finished", everything was downloaded except track no. 1, which was incomplete. So I went back to re-download track no. 1, and wouldn't you know it, it's downloading everything else first (nearly a gigabyte) and track no. 1 last. Assuming of course that it even completes track no. 1. There is no way to stop any track downloading outside of shutting down the Download Manager. No right-click, nothing.

Edit: After removing the folder and starting over again, it failed again on track no. 1.

Edit #2: After clearing everything from the folder again, I opened the Download Manager and tried setting the "No. of concurrent downloads" to one, which was quite a struggle because the Download Manager wouldn't allow the change while it was downloading. So after that time-waster, I managed to fix the setting and restarted the download, which fortunately focused on track no. 1, and by some miracle completed.

All in all, a classic example of why so few people want to struggle with this stuff, and why high-res downloads won't likely achieve anywhere near their market potential.

dalethorn's picture

And the music is worth the struggle. I especially like the way this was recorded. There's plenty of natural-sounding reverb, yet the instruments are clear and distinct. This is one of the best recordings I've heard in terms of optimizing between distance, reverb, and blending the orchestra with solo instruments.

Axiom05's picture

HDTracks is not the only source for downloads. Personally, is my preferred go to site. Their download manager is far superior and faster than HDTracks.

dalethorn's picture

I do go to ProStudioMasters sometimes, although their site has its problems which I won't go into unless someone needs to know. The reason I go to HDTracks at all, particularly when there's a link from one of these articles, is simply because they support Stereophile.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Happens that the Brahms Violin Concerto is one of my favorite works, though I have to admit being fixated on the Heifetz/Reiner/Chicago S.O. SACD on RCA/BMG. I've got stereo and mono Shaded Dog pressings as well. Suppose that the virtues of Heifetz's recording drowns out the potential value of others—Hilary Hahn substitutes Heifetz's strength with her own qualities of sweetness, but I'd rather have the strength. In any case, I know there must be multiple tapings of Oistrakh in the Brahms Violin Concerto, which one is you favorite? Which generally available mastering sounds best?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

There are at least 6 here, maybe more:
Both the Warner/EMI and DG versions are available in 24/96 and, I expect, on vinyl.

volvic's picture

I think between vinyl and CD I have about 21 versions, faves of course are Milstein, Ferras, Oistrakh, and Szeryng. So many more I am forgetting. JVS is spot on with this review, it is in fact stellar on every level, the playing is confident, the sound is yummy and the accompanying Brahms Sonata is just as beautifully played as the concerto.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Looks like I might still have the Oistrakh/Szell/Cleveland LP on Angel, will drag it off the shelf.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

was just issued by Yves St. Laurent in Canada. The Norbeck, Peters, and Ford mailing list is an invaluable resource for "pirate" and live issues, past and present.

Jim C.'s picture

For which I sincerely thank you. Your recent recommendations have been particularly good. Please keep 'em coming.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

My husband may want to compare bills with you sometime ;-)

FYI, coming next
Terry Riley piano music
Brahms Trios
Rachel Podger's latest
Two from David del Tredici (in one review)
Several vocal recordings that are screaming for review, maybe interspersed with some of the above