Stefan Jackiw's New Brahms

By Cathy Fuller

In June, 2001, a recording was made of the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra during their tour of Cuba and Venezuela.  Conductor Benjamin Zander invited a 16-year-old NEC Preparatory School student to play Paganini and Massenet as a featured soloist.  The beauty of his sound, his endlessly singing lines and his mature sense of pacing were miraculous.

Now Stefan Jackiw has a new recording with Boston-based pianist Max Levinson featuring the three Violin Sonatas by Johannes Brahms (available from ArkivMusic).  Jackiw performed the three of them together for the first time in 2006 (he was 20) on his graduate recital for the prestigious Artist Diploma at the New England Conservatory.   

Stefan talks with real love about the Violin Sonata No. 1, a piece saturated with yearning, and which you’ll hear this morning at 10am.  In it, Stefan hears Brahms “expressing his feelings about facing old age and looking back on memories of his youth.”  Brahms has found a language for nostalgia that can break the heart. The Sonata uses fragments of Brahms’s own song “Regenlied”  (Rain Song), a setting of poetry by his friend Klaus Groth. Stefan takes the trouble to devote a page of his liner notes to the poem and its translation:

Pour, rain, pour down,
Awaken again in me those dreams
That I dreamt in childhood,
When the wetness foamed in the sand!

When the dull summer sultriness
Struggled casually against the fresh coolness,
And the pale leaves dripped with dew,
And the crops were dyed a deeper blue.

What bliss to stand in the downpour
With naked feet,
To reach into the grass
And touch the foam with one’s hands!

Or upon hot cheeks,
To catch the cold drops;
And with the newly awakened fragrances
To air one’s childish breast!
Like the flowers’ chalices, which trickle there,
The soul breathes openly,
Like the flowers, drunk with fragrance,
Drowning in the dew of the Heavens.

Every trembling drop cooled
Deep down to the heart’s very beating,
And creation’s holy web
Pierced into my hidden life.

Pour, rain, pour down,
Awaken the old songs
That we used to sing in the doorway
When the raindrops pattered outside!

I would like to listen to it again,
That sweet, moist rushing,
My soul gently bedewed
With holy, childlike awe.

I’m delighted to share this new recording with you.  The  warmth of Max Levinson’s playing creates a lustrous, haunting world that Jackiw inhabits beautifully. 

And I hope you'll take some time to hear Stefan in a 2006 performance recorded in WGBH's Studio One.  He and pianist Timothy Bozarth visited for a live performance that included Mozart's Violin Sonata in A, K. 305, and you can hear it below.
(photo:  Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)

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