The opening passage of the first movement of Brahms's G major sonata is one of the most beautiful in all chamber music – an exquisite, elegiac melody that requires the sweetest playing to draw out its delicate, autumnal melancholy. How regrettable, then, that Ilya Grubert – wonderfully forthright in the strident development passages – fails to bring any warmth to that perfect moment, choosing instead a hollow, bleached tone that drains it of all humanity. He finds a rounder, fuller sound for the allegretto grazioso of the second sonata, but returns to his strange disengagement for the third sonata's adagio, with poor Alena Cherny trying in vain to conjure some magic.
Stephen Pritchard has written on classical music for most of his 45 years in journalism. He was the Observer's first readers' editor, and prior to that was a managing editor and production editor