Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor Op.108

Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)
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Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)

Performance date: 07/07/2018

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1886-8

Duration: 00:21:30

Recording Engineer: Ciaran Cullen, RTÉ

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:Duo

Artists: Cédric Tiberghien - [piano]
Alina Ibragimova - [violin]

Alina Ibragimova [violin], Cédric Tiberghien [piano]

Johannes Brahms [1833-1897]

Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor Op.108 [1886-8]

1. Allegro

2. Adagio

3. Un poco presto e con sentimento

4. Presto agitato

Every summer Brahms left Vienna and went on vacation in the mountains of Austria or Switzerland for a mixture of composing, mountain walks, beer-gardens and long musical evenings with friends. In the summer of 1886 he was in Switzerland. He had recently survived the long and difficult birth of his final symphony and the congenial company and magnificent scenery at the Swiss resort released a flood of chamber works – the Second Cello Sonata, the Second Violin Sonata, the Third Piano Trio, a group of songs for a young singer who had turned his head and the not quite finished Third Violin Sonata. He finished it two summers later and sent it to Clara Schumann, who responded with youthful warmth: I marvelled at the way everything is interwoven, like fragrant tendrils of the vine.

The opening Allegro starts sotto voce, the violin’s high singing line unfolding above an uneasy, syncopated piano part – full of suppressed passion and anxiety that soon breaks out into eloquent rhetoric. The swiftly flowing exposition makes do with two themes linked by the piano’s short transition motif leading to an all-too-brief ecstatic second theme. The development follows almost as if it were an extended cadence and is wholly concerned with elaborating the first subject tune. This takes place over the piano’s insistent tolling in the bass imitated by the violin’s plangent, repeated quavers across two strings, which eventually reveals itself as a highly decorated form of the first subject. With such a limited development, Brahms allows the recapitulation the luxury of expanding into new areas, while the development’s rocking violin figure is recalled in the coda.

The magical Adagio is formally extremely simple, not even a ternary design but a long accompanied melody followed by its decorated and tonally adjusted restatement. The violin’s sighing thirds towards the end of the first statement recur with a wild gypsy intensity during the second, but it is the restrained nobility of the theme that takes our breath away and makes us long for more. It fades and dies too soon, though its passing glows nostalgically. To follow this Brahms creates a skittish, tongue-in-cheek intermezzo, a typical Brahmsian change of mood that suddenly evaporates in a tiny coda like a spiral of smoke.

The Presto agitato finale is almost brutally extroverted, featuring heavy chordal piano writing and a broad chorale-like second theme that recalls another famous Brahms finale, that of the early F minor Piano Sonata. It is a dark movement full of unrequited passion with unexplained and sudden hesitations and even moments of lyricism that balance the wilder outbreaks. But with Brahms in this mood there are no easy solutions and the movement ends with a grim, full-blooded coda. 

Francis Humphrys