Fine Brahms from Gary Hoffman and David Selig

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Brahms Gary Hoffman (cello), David Selig (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 10.1.2014 (RB)

Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op 38
Cello Sonata in D major, Op 78 (transcription of Violin Sonata in G Major
Cello Sonata No. 2 in F, Op 99

Gary Hoffman made his debut in the Wigmore Hall when he was 15, playing the Brahms E minor sonata.  Now an elder statesman of the cello he was back to perform all three Brahms cello sonatas (including the transcription of the G Major Violin sonata) with his regular chamber music partner, David Selig.

The E minor sonata was written early in Brahms’ career and is unusual in that it does not have a slow movement, Brahms deciding to drop the movement he had composed for the work.  Hoffman creates a very beautiful sound, particularly in the softer dynamic registers, and the opening of the work had a poignant, wistful quality.  However, I thought he could have made much more of the dramatic contrasts in the first movement – it came across as very subdued and introspective – and at various points he could have projected the singing line a little more.  The second movement minuet was elegant and nicely framed with both players in perfect balance while the whirling figurations of the spinning theme were gorgeous.  The voicing and phrasing of the final fugue was excellent, although the balance between the two players was not quite right at the beginning, while Hoffman’s handling of the virtuoso coda was exhilarating.

There is some disagreement about who arranged the G major Violin Sonata for cello – the cello version is in D major and some believe the composer made the arrangement himself – although both versions date from around the same time.  Hoffman produced a sweet singing tone for the introduction and gave us some voluptuous, soaring melodies.  The movement as a whole had a symphonic breadth while the handling of the singing writing was exemplary from both players.  Brahms composed the slow movement in memory of the dying 24-year old Felix Schumann, Robert and Clara Schumann’s youngest child.  Selig captured the sombre mood of the introduction perfectly while Hoffman gave us some poignant and heartfelt playing without being overly mawkish and also some rich, dark colouring in the double stopping sections.  The finale was superb with Hoffman giving us perfectly controlled and elegantly shaded lines and a luminous tone throughout.

The F major sonata was written towards the end of Brahms’ career for the virtuoso, Robert Haussmann.  The discarded slow movement from the first sonata provides a link between the two works, Brahms deciding to resurrect it for this work.   Both players captured the heroic flavour of the introduction and the balance was very good with Selig careful not to drown out Hoffman with the tremolos.  Elsewhere in the movement I thought the shaping of some of the dense piano writing could have been tidier and the textures lighter and more transparent.  Hoffman’s pizzicato throughout the slow movement was absolutely stunning while both players handled the transitions and contrasts in a seamless and organic way.  Both players captured well the passionate turbulence of the third movement although again I thought the piano textures could have been a little cleaner.  The trio section was light, flowing and mellifluous.  The finale had a light, airy quality and there was an excellent range of dynamics, textures and sonorities.

Gary Hoffman said at the end that “there is nothing left by Brahms” and so we received Albumblatt by Mendelssohn – an unfinished work – as an encore (Hoffman and Selig released a recording of Mendelssohn’s complete works in 2012 so they were on very familiar ground).

Robert Beattie