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Jonathan Woolf
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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline


Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonatas 1
No. 1 in D major Op. 12/1 (1797-98) [17:35]
No. 2 in A major Op. 12/2 (1797-98) [16:41]
No. 3 in E flat major Op. 12/3 (1797-98) [15:02]
No. 4 in A minor Op. 23 (1800) [15:16]
Joseph Fuchs (violin)
Artur Balsam (piano)
rec. Pythian Temple, New York, 1952




Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonatas 2

No. 5 in F major Op. 24 Spring (1801) [21:13]
No. 6 in A major Op. 30/1 (1801-02) [21:25]
No. 7 in C minor Op. 30/2 (1801-02) [23:31]
Joseph Fuchs (violin)
Artur Balsam (piano)
rec. Pythian Temple, New York, 1952

Experience Classicsonline

These are the first two volumes in what will be a three CD conspectus – available singly – of the first complete LP cycle of the Beethoven Violin Sonatas. American Decca chose that stalwart musician, Warsaw-born Artur Balsam as the pianist. He’d already accompanied Milstein and was to be more famous as Menuhin’s partner, though he partnered the elite of the string playing profession over the years; Goldberg, Francescatti and Szigeti among many.  The violinist, Joseph Fuchs, was born in 1899 and was seven years Balsam’s senior. For much of his career he was known as an important concertmaster, initially at Cleveland. He was first violinist in the Primrose Quartet after Shumsky’s departure and formed a well-known duo with his sister, violist Lillian. They were renowned for their performance of the Sinfonia Concertante and for inspiring Martinů’s Three Madrigals.

The Fuchs-Balsam duo combined what sleeve note writer Tully Potter characterises as ‘virtuoso-conscious New World taste, along with a touch of Old World graciousness.’ The extent to which one goes along with that statement is the extent to which one will enjoy the performances. The seven sonatas enshrined in these two discs share consonant qualities; instrumental finesse, a good sense of tempo relations, fine ensemble. The E flat major [No.3] has a gracefully phrased opening movement and a buoyant finale. Its slow movement is quite subtly coloured by Fuchs, with some clean and modern sounding expressive finger position changes. The corollary is that it can sound rather sleek and for all the adroit musicality the rather fast vibrato tends to limit optimum colour.

The Spring Sonata shares these qualities. When I first played it I thought it sounded uncommonly fast but it’s the nature of the accenting and the quickness of the rhythmic corners being turned that leads one to think so. It’s actually a good, well-chosen tempo. Again though, in the end, one’s pleasure in the athleticism and clear eyed pragmatism of the performances is slightly vitiated by something a little too unyielding in Fuchs’s tone. There’s a lack of real tonal breadth and for all the collegiate association, that’s a constant of the performance. The A major [No.6] is polished but emotively a little reserved. Fuchs’s sound, whilst certainly exciting and vibrant can tend toward the one dimensional in terms strictly of colour. The result is that the slow movements in particular can sound a little starved of variety and also of characterisation. The C minor [No.7] is properly assertive and theatrical, dynamic and outward looking, but once more the basic sound is a little tense, and fortes can sound razory to the point of shrillness. 

I can’t comment meaningfully on the quality of the engineering as I’ve never heard the Deccas from which these transfers derive. It sounds broadly unproblematic. These discs constitute two-thirds of a pioneering LP set, which has long been absent. Its restoration is welcome but recommendation will depend on the specialisation of one’s tastes.

Jonathan Woolf 




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