"You gotta love Brahms," Joshua Bell says, a little short of breath. He's wiping sweat from his brow after the big rock 'n' roll conclusion to the composer's D minor Violin Sonata. Bell and the astute pianist Jeremy Denk play it with all the turbulence and tenderness Brahms demands, and it's an invigorating way to open this Tiny Desk concert.
Bell and Denk have been chamber-music partners for 10 years, and they're a bit wound up on Brahms these days. They've released a new album, For the Love of Brahms, and they're performing the music, along with that of Brahms' friend Robert Schumann, in concerts.
Contrasting with the fiery Brahms, Schumann's Romance, Op. 94, No. 2 unfolds like a song without words. Bell makes his 1713 Stradivarius sing, capturing the bittersweet tone of the music. When the theme comes around for the second time, he lightens bow pressure for a more intimate, almost whispered disclosure.
Another of Brahms' close friends figures prominently in Bell and Denk's final offering. Violinist Joseph Joachim was something like the Joshua Bell of Brahms' day, as well as the man for whom the composer wrote his Violin Concerto. Joachim's gift to Brahms was creating piano and violin arrangements of the composer's Hungarian Dances.
Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 1, powered by a sweeping theme and chugging piano topped with pearly descending runs, whisks you to a smoky café where gypsy fiddlers battle for supremacy. Starting off on the low G string, Bell's tone is as rich as dark chocolate, the feeling a touch wistful.
Bell and Denk are among today's most thoughtful and probing musicians. With playing as vibrant as this, it's virtually impossible not to love Brahms.
For the Love of Brahms is available now (Spotify) (iTunes) (Amazon).
Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3, IV. Presto agitato
Schumann: Romance, Op. 94, No. 2
Brahms (arr. Joachim): Hungarian Dance No. 1
Producers: Tom Huizenga, Niki Walker; Audio Engineers: Suraya Mohamed, Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Kara Frame; Production Assistant: Maia Stern; Page Turner: Katie Daugert; Photo: Bob Boilen/NPR.
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