Dallas — There was a fascinating recital on Oct. 22, held in Caruth Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University. First of all, it had an intriguing title “Brahms Among Friends.” Secondly, it featured two Dallas-based musicians. One was Emanuel Borok, whose long tenure as concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony was marked with success as both an occasional soloist and suburb leadership. The collaborative pianist is a relatively newcomer to the Metroplex, the young dynamic pianist Mikhail Berestnev.
The friends of Brahms mentioned in the title starts out with Clara Schumann, wife of Robert Schumann and the leading pianist of her day. There are plenty of rumors about the relationship between Clara and the young Brahms but many historians think it was a combination of mother figure and mentor. Brahms wrote that he was in love with her, but she was pregnant at the time he was in residence to help Clara while Robert was dying from syphilis in an asylum. Not very conducive for an affair. It remains a mystery.
We heard Clara, a terrific composer in her own right: Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22. These pieces were dedicated to the world-famous violinist Joseph Joachim. More about him later. The romances were written in 1853, the very year the 20-year-old Brahms met Clara and Robert and played his first piano sonata for them. They both declared him a genius. Thus, it is not a surprise that you hear more influence of Brahms in these romances than her husband.
Music by Robert Schumann followed, his Die Kinderszenen, “Scenes from Childhood,” Op. 15, for piano. This is a series of 13 short pieces, including the well-known Träumerei. Schumann wrote in 1838, well before Brahms’ arrival. It gave us a chance to hear Berestnev in a solo turn.
The aforementioned Joseph Joachim made an appearance in the recital with his 1894 Romance in C Major for violin and piano. Brahms first met the Schumanns upon Joachim’s recommendation. Joachim and the Clara Schumann’s established a fast friendship and professional relationship, touring as a duo. Upon his arrival, Brahms became a member of that circle of friends. In fact, Joachim was the editor of Brhams’ violin concerto.
Brahms himself finally appeared with his Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108. It is one of his masterpieces. Two other pieces completed the performance. They were two movements from the F.A.E. sonata: Schumann’s Intermezzo and Brahms’ Scherzo.
The playing was wonderful all evening. Berestnev is an astonishingly gifted pianist and equally at home as a soloist and a collaborative pianist. He was always supportive of the violin line and was right with Borok in every instance of rubato. He is a marvelous addition to music in Dallas and the country for that matter.
The many years of being a concertmaster are evident in Borok’s playing. He produces a beautiful tone and is technically impressive, but physically, he is still in his orchestral chair. We are used to more movement in soloists, which is unwelcome in an orchestral player. Alone this line, his face rarely reflects the music. However, once you get used to his stoic appearance, you were treated to a marvelously played performance, full of rubato and musically astute.
We can only hope that this is the first of many recitals by the duo.
Moment of Geek: Three different composers wrote the F.A.E. sonata. It was written in that all-important year of 1853, as a gift to Joachim. The composers were Robert Schumann, his gifted pupil Albert Dietrich and the 20-year-old Brahms. But noticeably not Clara Schumann, who firmly believed that composers should be men, belittling her own prodigious talent. The title comes from Joachim’s recently adopted motto Frei aber einsam" ("free but lonely") and all three notes are used as a motif in the sonata. Later, the unmarried Brahms took it for his own.