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CD: Crotchet

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonatas Op. 12 (1797/98): No. 1 in D [19:41]; No. 2 in A [16:40]; No. 3 in E flat [18:27]
Midori Seiler (violin); Jos van Immerseel (piano)
rec. Kammermusiksaal, Philharmonie, Luxemburg, 3-5 January 2007. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

I am not one to be naturally drawn to so-called authentic performances, so I approached this recording with some trepidation. Midori Seiler plays a baroque violin from the eighteenth century - unfortunately the manufacturer is unknown. Immerseel plays on a Christopher Clarke 1988 copy of an Anton Walter Viennese piano the original of which is housed in a museum in Nuremburg. It is a pleasure to report that there is such joy in the chamber music presented here that any qualms I harboured were permanently dispelled within moments.

Both soloists - for these sonatas do represent a conjoining of minds - are excellent. Articulation from both is a constant joy as is the feeling of constant communication and reasoned dialogue. Nowhere is this better exhibited than by the very opening of the second sonata. The lighter sound of the period piano aids clarity to a great degree. Note that the three sonatas are not presented in numerical order, and that it is this A major sonata that begins the disc. Perhaps it is because of its sunny nature that it is so placed. Even the slow movement, an A minor Andante, is a model of decorum, with its spare textures making maximum effect.

The development section of the first movement of the E flat Sonata that follows contains some more impassioned moments, and here Immerseel and Seiler really do let their hair down. There is some virtuoso fingerwork from Immerseel - note that this is the sonata of Op. 12 which makes the greatest demands of the pianist. It should be further noted that he can elicit a fine legato line from his instrument in the song-like 'Adagio con molto espressione'.

The sun re-emerges for the final sonata to be heard, the D major. Seiler laudably avoids harshness in her forte stoppings. Every opportunity for graceful exchange is gratefully taken. This grace is later most in evidence in the Theme and Variations slow movement, a true joy in this performance. Seiler and Immerseel traverse the varied terrain with ease. The occasionally elfin-textured, always smiling finale sets the seal on a splendid performance.

The recording is produced, engineered and edited by Stephan Schellmann. He clearly knows how to achieve a particular sound, for the focused sound is perfectly distanced and yet remains intimate.

If Grumiaux/Haskil remains a traditional reference point, there is no doubt that the Seiler/Immerseel partnership sheds new light on these works. Booklet notes by Rudolph Hopner are informed and detailed. I note also that there is a photo of Seiler's bow, credited as by Rudlf Hopner after a John Dodd original. Two small grumbles: despite the fact that the sonatas are not heard in numerical order, Hopner discusses them as such. Perhaps the actual running order was a fairly late decision? Also, Seiler's biography is translated into English but Immerseel's is given in French only. Small matters - this is a notable release that demands attention.

Colin Clarke


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