The Odeon Trio go for gold. Unlike either the Beaux Arts (Philips) or the Fontenay (Teldec), they use three CDs to include everything by Brahms that could possibly be called a piano trio, not forgetting the Op. 114 and Op. 40 wind trios, whose wind parts can well be rendered by strings. They decide, too, that the original 1853 version of the B major Trio is for them, rather than the revised version of 1889 which is more generally favoured.
This is an exceptional disc. Exceptional both for the music Johannes Brahms’ three violin sonatas contain some of his most lovely writing and the performance French violinist Augustin Dumay and Portuguese pianist Maria Pires project a strong interpretive vision. The interpretation is more lyrical and thoughtful than typical, with somewhat slow tempi generally. This is married to exquisite – and I mean, exquisite – technique from both Pires and Dumay as well as an outstanding sound engineering job from DG. The excellence of this CD is comprehensive.
Bernard Haitink conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Brahms’s great orchestral works, including the complete symphonies. The concertos feature three great soloists: pianist Claudio Arrau, violinist Henryk Szeryng, and cellist Janos Starker. "No one, I trust, will deny that Arrau has lived with, wrestled with, and in a truly terribly way ’known’ the D minor Concerto for more years than most of us can consciously recall. Where contemporary pianists have often tended to refine or domesticate the concerto, withdrawing it from the world of heroic endeavour, Arrau has always done the reverse. No pianist, apart possibly from Serkin in his several recordings, has communicated so formidably the work’s scope: its seriousness and its anxious, tragic mood. Often Arrau makes free with the text. But the vision is huge, the technique astonishing. Haitink is a worthy accompanist."
As complete sets of Brahms piano music go, it's hard to get more complete than this set by Martin Jones on Nimbus. Jones includes not only the canonical two Rhapsodies, three Sonatas, four Ballades, six sets of variations, ten Hungarian Dances, sixteen Waltzes and twenty-eight short piano pieces, but also the almost forgotten sarabandes, gigues, gavottes, studies, canons and transcriptions. Listeners looking for the most complete Brahms available need look no further. Listeners who do look no further, however, will have to settle for good but by no means great performances. Jones has a big tone coupled to an impressive technique and many of his performances are quite fine. But too often here he seems to be merely going through the motions, turning in accomplished but unexciting sometimes even dutiful performances. When extroverted virtuosity is called for in the Paganini Variations, Jones is almost but not altogether on top of the notes.