The Complete Violin Sonatas
CD 1
Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12/1 (1797/98) [20:34]
Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12/2 (1797/98) [16:27]
Sonata No. 3 in E flat Major, Op. 12/3 (1797/98) [18:33]
Sonata No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 23, (1801) [16:15]
CD 2
Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24, ‘Spring’ (1801) [23:34]
Sonata No. 8 in G Major, Op. 30/3 (1803) [17:22]
Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 ‘Kreutzer’ (1803) [36:56]
CD 3
Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 30/1 (1803) [22:07]
Sonata No. 7 in C Minor, Op. 30/2 (1803) [24:33]
Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96 (1812) [27:13]
Renaud Capuçon (violin)
Frank Braley (piano)
rec. 16-20 September, 10-13 October 2009, L’heure bleue, Salle de musique, La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6420010 [3 CDs: 71:44 + 77:45 + 73:47]

Renaud Capuçon and Frank Braley have been chamber music partners going back some fourteen years. The present recording was made in 2009 at L’heure bleue in the Salle de musique at La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland; a hall renowned for its marvellous acoustics. The layout of the programme across the three discs has been helpfully assembled in composition date order. Virgin Classics packaged the set using a fold-out sleeve design incorporating a booklet with a fine essay in English. Having handled the set the design doesn’t seem especially durable.

To record the complete Beethoven violin sonatas must be a summit in the recording career of any performer. Capuçon explains, “from the first opus 12 works to the last sonata opus 96, we see a composer’s life pass before us.” There is great assurance here. Giving the impression of live performances I was struck by the relaxed freedom of these two artists as if unencumbered by any predetermined decisions.

Dedicated to Antonio Salieri the opus 12 set of three violin sonatas published in 1799 is a product of Beethoven’s late twenties. From this set I especially enjoyed the light-hearted and witty Sonata No .2. The vivacious playing of Capuçon and Braley in the opening Allegro vivace speaks of a remarkably cheerful disposition. Serious and precise the Andante più tosto Allegretto has a contemplative quality. To conclude the score the minuet-like Allegro piacevole - a Rondo - conveys a sense of refinement with an infectious appeal.

From about the time that Beethoven was beginning to experience disturbing signs of deafness comes the radiant and spirited Sonata No. 5 known as the ‘Spring’. The opening Allegro is constantly glowing, always poised and verging on the witty. The feather-like and delicate slow movement has the temperament of a lullaby. I loved the impish feel given to the Scherzo while the Rondo: Finale has high tension, being agitated and intense.

Composed in 1803 approximately between the Second and Third Symphonies is the most famous of all the Beethoven sonatas, the immense and majestic Sonata No. 9, Op. 47 known as the ‘Kreutzer’. Capuçon and Braley’s performance is as enjoyable as any I have heard. Playing of weight and energy marks the mighty opening movement Adagio sostenuto. Here the poetic passages are played with a real tenderness and the Presto is impetuous and angry. There is a real refinement to their interpretation of the Andante con Variazioni - most attractive and gracious. I was struck by the conspicuous vigour of the Presto: Finale that contains an unruliness bordering on the feral.

The Sonata No. 10, Op. 96 comes from 1812, the year that saw the completion of the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. A favourite score of mine this warm and congenial piece would be far better known had it been allocated a name. With only occasional interruptions of its intimacy the extended Allegro moderato is affectionate and genial. The Adagio expressivo has a tempered quality almost like a musical love letter. Short and bucolic the Scherzo could be described as a fleet-footed dance. Whilst the high spirited Finale, marked Poco Allegro, is full of contrasting ideas and suffused with optimism. With a final burst the concluding bars are rapid and vital.

Competition in the catalogues for recordings of the complete Beethoven violin sonatas is intense. I have greatly enjoyed these performances and rank them alongside my long time favourites. I have always admired the spirited and robust performances from Pinchas Zukerman and Daniel Barenboim. Made in 1971/73 in Berlin and London I have these recordings as part of a nine disc box set of Beethoven chamber music from EMI Classics 5 74447 2. In addition I am also fond of the spontaneous feel to the exciting readings from Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich on Deutsche Grammophon 447 058-2. For their impeccable unity and directness there are excellent performances from Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy on Decca 421 453-2. I hear favourable reports of the sets from Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Carl Seemann on Deutsche Grammophon Trio 477 550-2; Henryk Szeryng and Ingrid Haebler on Philips Duo 446 521-2 (vol. 1) and 446 524-2 (vol. 2) and also from Augustin Dumay and Maria João Pires on Deutsche Grammophon 471 495-2. A lesser known set that deserves praise is from Corey Cerovsek and Paavali Jumppanen. These consistently satisfying performances, marked by their selfless dedication, were recorded in 2006 at La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland on Claves CD 50-2610/12.

This set of the complete Beethoven violin sonatas does credit to the artistry of Capuçon and Braley. These performances just grew and grew on me and can stand alongside the finest sets available.

Michael Cookson

Can stand alongside the finest sets available.