Beethoven Complete Violin Sonatas Review

Released 2007.  

BBC Review

A 3-cd set of all ten of Beethoven's sonatas for violin and piano, from outstanding...

Matthew Shorter 2003

A complete survey of Beethoven's violin sonatas isn't as exhausting and worthy an undertaking as one might fear. By the time the 27-year old Beethoven got round to his first sonatas for piano and violin his musical and pianistic voice was already well-honed - the first violin sonatas couldn't be further from derivative juvenilia, they're self-confident utterances of a composer already enjoying his originality.

All ten violin sonatas hail from a relatively short (if incredibly transformative) period in Beethoven's creative life, with the first nine composed within six years, and the final work in the form almost a decade later. Still to come were all of the late quartets and sonatas.

This makes for a very coherent atmosphere to the works on this three-CD set, in spite of some powerful contrasts. The approach of the two players, both short on rhetoric and long on subtlety and refinement without mannerism, also binds the set together. It comes as no surprise to read on the sleeve notes that Maria João Pires and Augustin Dumay met over the op.24 Spring Sonata, and they are clearly on home ground in its serene lyricism, a quality present in their readings of all but the most dramatic moments in the cycle.

Pires is best known as an outstanding Mozart interpreter, and she brings a very Mozartian sense of balance and nuance to her Beethoven. Dumay if anything outdoes his accompanist on understatement, with a liquid violin tone, very little attack and no unecessary inflection. The performances never feel showy, even in virtuosic display passages.

Sometimes this can feel a little self-denying. A contemporary reviewer referred to the op.47 'Kreutzer' Sonata as aesthetic or artistic terrorism; Dumay and Pires' interpretation certainly captures the busy moral purpose of terrorism but perhaps less of the work's demonic brilliance than some. Significantly, in an interview in the sleeve notes, Pires reveals her ambivalence about the work, describing it as a last struggle with the world, which leaves her feeling physically tired.

Nonetheless it makes for fascinating Beethoven, and you can feel the depth of musicianship at the heart of the duo's approach paying increasing dividends as we move through the cycle towards the later, more deeply felt works. The final op.96 sonata is a particular luxury, with a sense of bliss very rare in Beethoven, certainly of this period, which thanks to the vision and sensitivity of the duo sustains itself through the contrasts of the final movements.

If you're not convinced yet, the set is beautifully packaged in parchment-coloured card, complete with artfully trimmed sepia prints of the performers in various soulful poses in an ornamental garden, and a fascinating joint interview.

Like This? Try These:
Beethoven: Cello Sonatas (Anne Gastinel)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas (Artur Pizarro)
Enescu: Violin Sonatas (Adelina & Justin Oprean)

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