Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
CD 1
Violin Sonata No.1 in D, Op.12 No.1 (1797-98) [20:19]
Violin Sonata No.2 in A, Op.12 No.2 (1797-98) [16:15]
Violin Sonata No.3 in E flat, Op.12 No.3 (1797-98) [18:21]
Violin Sonata No.4 in A minor, Op.23 (1800) [16:12]
CD 2
Violin Sonata No.5 in F, Op.24 'Spring' (1800-01) [23:21]
Violin Sonata No.8 in G, Op.30 No.3 (1801-02) [17:08]
Violin Sonata No.9 in A, Op.47 'Kreutzer' (1802-03) [36:47]
CD 3
Violin Sonata No.6 in A, Op.30 No.1 (1801-02) [20:51]
Violin Sonata No.7 in C minor, Op.30 No.2 (1801-02) [24:16]
Violin Sonata No.10 in G, Op.96 (1812) [27:05]
Renaud Capuçon (violin); Frank Braley (piano)
rec. September and October 2009, L’heure bleue, Salle de musique, La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
VIRGIN CLASSICS 642001 0 1 [3 CDs: 71:44 + 77:45 + 73:47]

Why add another set of the complete violin sonatas to your shelves? If you’re historically minded you have the Kreisler/Rupp and Heifetz/Emanuel Bay/Brooks Smith on your shelves. Possibly you’ve dallied with Oistrakh/Oborin, or Schneiderhan/Kempff or Menuhin and his pianistic partners. If you’re from the late LP era you have the Perlman/Ashkenazy. If you’re a silver disc fanatic you’ll certainly have acquired one of the more recent cycles; it’s possible you even bought the recent Dumay/Pires set on DG, and good for you if you did; it’s excellent. So what makes this new cycle so special, and should you be interested?

Firstly, it’s been beautifully recorded, and the balance is just right between the instruments. Second, the performances are wonderfully lyrical and full of deft, imaginative and refined gestures. The Spring Sonata is a most obvious place to start. Gentle sensitivity is the way in which Capuçon and Braley play it; bowing is quite light, articulation lacks much of the tensile muscularity that other pairings bring to the music. The ethos is a true give and take ensemble, whilst timbral contrasts are genuinely refined. They characterise all three of the Eighth sonata’s movements with real acumen, charting its moods and paragraphs dextrously. There is nothing straight-laced about the playing, and it’s not too rhythmically strict either. The finale is notably vibrant and successful.

As for the Kreutzer, we find a consonant sense of the work’s architecture and quixotic changeability. The opening movement has plenty of propulsion but is neither over-vibrated by the fiddle nor over-parted by the pianist. These are listening, thoughtful performances indeed. A corollary is that certain moments may be thought to be underplayed – take the opening statements of the Kreutzer for example and also – despite the fine sense of élan that comes with the unleashing of the first variation in the central movement - certain moments subsequently. This is a relative matter, of course, but I ought to note it.

They certainly do take a very relaxed view of the opening of the Tenth sonata. It reinforces the intimacy they locate in the works amidst the sense of dynamism. I happen to find this movement rather devitalised, but acknowledge the consistency of approach and can find nothing with which to argue in the colouristic assurance of the same sonata’s finale. Similarly there is a pleasurable articulacy in the opening of the Op.12 No.3 sonata – which is well balanced, naturally phrased and not over-emoted. Braley proves a most able Beethovenian throughout and an equal partner, and shows in the slow movement of this E flat major sonata just how richly he can characterise.

So these are splendid, genuinely impressive performances. They’re not stamped with the heroism of performers such as a number of those cited above. They’re cut from a far more intimate cloth, preferring incremental, dextrous playing. If your inclination is for large scaled readings, then I suggest that these are not for you. They exude a tenderness, and a relaxation, that will appeal strongly to those who value chamber intimacies above concertante vigour.

Jonathan Woolf

Cut from intimate cloth, preferring incremental, dextrous playing, exuding tenderness and relaxation. Will appeal strongly to those who value chamber intimacies above concertante vigour.