Johannes Brahms

Oistrakh Plays Brahms

Here is a soulful performance of Johannes Brahms’ final violin sonata, the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108. This classic live concert performance was taken from a March 18, 1970 recital at New York’s Alice Tully Hall featuring the legendary Soviet violinist David Oistrakh and pianist Sviatoslav Richter. The audio quality is less than perfect and the camera angle frequently provides the page turner’s perspective. Yet Oistrakh’s sumptuous, golden tone and noble phrasing shine through. There isn’t a hint of the semi-contrived facial expressions and physical gyrations of many contemporary performers, which often dishonestly superimpose the performer’s ego onto the music. Instead, Oistrakh simply stands and plays and music pours out.

Also evident are the D minor Sonata’s distinctly tragic, and at moments mysterious, undercurrents. Listen to the chilling, unchanging dominant bass pedal tone in the piano throughout the first movement’s development section. Perhaps the root of this extended dominant A lies in the first two notes of the movement (A leading to D). The final moments of the movement suggest both lament and acceptance.

The second movement opens with the majestic serenity and classicism reminiscent of one of Handel’s violin sonatas. Unlike Brahms’ two preceding sonatas for violin, a brief scherzando third movement is inserted before the virtuosic final movement. Listen to the way this dark, fiery passage suddenly gives way to a brief moment of innocence and sunlight. Throughout the final movement, Presto agitato, we hear the music build towards resolution and then pull back. A similar trick occurs in the final movement of Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestucke, Op. 73. Listen for the moment towards the end of the movement when we finally get the resolution in the form of a stern D minor chord in the piano.


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