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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata in F major K376
Sonata in A major K526
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata No.1 in D major Op.12 No.1*
Sonata No.10 in G major Op.96
Yehudi Menuhin (violin)
Hephzibah Menuhin (piano) except Hubert Giesen (piano)*
Recorded London and Paris, 1929-47
NAXOS 8.110988 [78.58]


The Naxos Menuhin series continues to do good work in collating sensible programmes from his discography. This one gives us two sonatas by Mozart and two by Beethoven recorded over an eighteen year span in London and Paris, three of them with Menuhin’s pianist sister Hephzibah and one with Adolf Busch’s colleague Hubert Giesen. One of the advantageous things about the disc is the Mozart F major sonata, which constitutes Menuhin’s sole recording of it, an Abbey Road set of two 78s made in March 1938. Bright and vital playing informs the twenty-two year old’s performance, with cannily widened vibrato usage in the Andante, a superbly extended trill, and one or two quicksilver downward portamenti to lace the movement in expressive depth – songful and thoughtful playing. The earlier A major is fine as well, with astute phrasing in the Presto finale and pianissimo phrasing.

His Beethoven D major is with Giesen (the track listing mistakenly says Hephzibah) and is a product of Menuhin’s prodigy years. He was thirteen. There are plenty of slides here as well and some burnished tone leaps across the years, though there are obviously some moments of gauche phrasing (a bit undifferentiated and over emotive in the theme and variations second movement for instance). Many years later in 1947 the Menuhins turned to the G major and left a performance of great sensitivity. There’s no spurious emoting in the slow movement and Menuhin resists the temptation here to dig into the string, instead evincing an elevated, frankly almost otherworldly spiritual detachment. In general there is a dark-to-light profile in the performance with a finale full of culminatory vibrance. If he seems slightly to downplay the espressivo aspects of the Adagio the gains are those of consistency – this is a notoriously difficult sonata to make work.

The transfers have used HMVs and retained a fair level of surface noise but the sound is bright, forward and warm.

Jonathan Woolf



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