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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.5 in F major Op.24 'Spring' (1801) [25:08]
Violin Sonata No.7 in C minor Op.30 No.2 (1802) [28:17]
Violin Sonata No. 9 in A minor Op.47 ‘Kreutzer’ (1803) [35:53]
Violin Sonata No.10 in G major Op.96 (1812) [29:01]
Yehudi Menuhin (violin), Jeremy Menuhin (piano)
rec. No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London,  October 1985, July 1986 (Op.30 No.2 and Op.96)
EMI CLASSICS 3817562 [61:04 +57:26]

This was, I assume, to have been Menuhin’s third complete cycle of the sonatas – the others had been with Kempff and Kentner – but in the end it didn’t materialise and so we have just the four, though the Menuhin duo also recorded the sixth, which is not here. Given that they were recorded late in Menuhin’s violinistic life one might anticipate considerable evidence of frailty. Actually though there are obviously some such moments, it’s largely the case that these are deeply humane and musically rewarding performances that whilst they fail to summon up the tonal glories of Menuhin’s youth manage to confer instead an accumulated wisdom and perception. 
The Spring is generously phrased, Jeremy Menuhin playing with real verve, and the engineers ensuring that the balance between the instruments is a reasonable one, although one that is more generous to the violinist. The unhurried ease is typical of Yehudi’s way with the sonatas and the gemütlich spirit and the agogics are faithfully employed by father and son – note too the wealth of detail extracted in Jeremy’s left hand voicings. The slow movement is a touching demonstration of Menuhin’s warmth – though his bowing is badly exposed, and in long bow he can’t any longer maintain absolute steadiness. The finale is unhurried and relaxed, if also beset with a few bowing difficulties.
In the Kreutzer, recorded at the same sessions as the Spring, there are strong hints of ponderousness in articulation and tempo relations. The fabled tone of old has now withered to a much more constricted and colour-reduced form. Though the middle movement has glimpses of the old Menuhin the finale has too many intonation and bowing slips for comfort. In these 1985 sessions it’s the slighter of the two sonatas that proves the more winning and resilient.
Tone colours are muted in Op.96 recorded the following year, though there are some fine attacks and some expressive legato usage. The instincts in the Adagio cantabile are admirable but once more bowing difficulties and fundamental problems over tone production conspire to limit enthusiasm, finely though Jeremy plays – and I’m sure the brassy attacks in the finale need not sound quite so uncomfortably steely. The C minor sees the violinist struggling with some of the passagework and in the slow movement it’s quite distressing to hear how slow the vibrato has become and how relatively starved.
This and other reissues in this uniform series are composer not artist led. There’s a Zukerman-Barenboim twofer of Nos.7, 8, 9 and 10, in the same batch, coupled with the Tchaikovsky Trio with du Pré (see review) though I find the sonatas a bit sugary.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Göran Forsling


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