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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Violin Sonatas
No. 5 in F Op. 24 “Spring” (1801) [25:08]
No. 7 in c minor Op. 30 No. 2 (1802) [28:17]
No. 9 in A Op. 47 “Kreutzer” (1803) [35:53]
No. 10 in G Op. 96 (1812) [29:01]
Yehudi Menuhin (violin), Jeremy Menuhin (piano)
rec. 30-31 October 1985 (5, 9), 7-8 July 1986, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 381 7562 [61:04 + 57:26]

Beethoven’s music runs all through Yehudi Menuhin’s long career. He recorded the violin concerto on a number of occasions, as he also did the sonatas. As early as 1929, when he was 13, he recorded Sonata No. 1 with Hubert Giesen. In 1934, at the age of 18, he set down the ‘Kreutzer’ with his then 14-year-old sister Hephzibah (HMV DB 2409/12). In 1959 the siblings returned to the sonata, coupled with the ‘Spring’ sonata, a legendary LP version on HMV ASD 389. He recorded all ten sonatas twice: in the 1950s with Louis Kentner and then in 1970, partnered by Wilhelm Kempff for Deutsche Grammophon. Finally in 1985-86, with his son Jeremy at the piano, came the present two discs, followed two years later by a third issue with sonatas 6 and 8; there are others as well. I have owned ASD 389 for ages. I reviewed the early Kreutzer a while ago when it was released on Naxos together with the slightly later C minor sonata (see review). I have long admired the coupling of sonatas 7 and 10 with Kempff but I had never heard more than an isolated movement from the collaboration with his son. Considering the late date of the recording, I wasn’t too hopeful since I heard Menuhin in the late 1980s play Beethoven’s concerto at Barbican Hall. By then his intonation was so poor that the whole performance was cause for suffering.
I shouldn’t have worried. True, the violin tone isn’t as ingratiating as it was in the 1950s; it has a slightly wiry character but this could also be the fairly early digital recording. There are the odd moments of quite mechanical playing, for example in the long variation movement of the ‘Kreutzer’ but this is very much the exception. The over-riding impression is one of commitment and intensity. He wholeheartedly digs into the strings with resin whirling from the horsehair. And his son Jeremy, who is sadly under-recorded, is a worthy partner, powerful and sensitive, grasping every opportunity when the piano has the lead. At such moments one gets a feeling that his father is almost too reticent, under-playing the violin accompaniment.
Nos. 5, 7 and 9 are powerful pieces and should be played for all they are worth. Not everything is as polished as in some versions I have heard but polish is surface and music making is going under the surface. That is what we get here. The G major is another matter. Written a decade later than the ‘Kreutzer’ and pointing to the Beethoven of the late string quartets and the late piano sonatas, it is more delicate, even frail. The playing is also far more restrained here, with the slow movement lovingly phrased. The opening of the finale has a late-summer warmth with Jeremy spreading a soft sunshine. That said, this movement is also more earthbound than the rest of the sonata.
Recorded balance is good, unless the supposed reticence of Menuhin senior is caused by the technicians. Bernard Jacobson’s liner-notes provide a lot of information in a limited space. I won’t part with the older recordings with Hepzibah Menuhin and Wilhelm Kempff, nor the even older ones from the 1930s, but the commitment of the playing here, from what might be labelled Yehudi Menuhin’s Indian Summer, won me over. I am sure I will return to these readings quite often.
Göran Forsling


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Seen & Heard
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