b>Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
The Complete Violin Sonatas
Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12/1 (1797/98) [21:47]
Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12/2 (1797/98) [16:28]
Sonata No. 3 in E flat Major, Op. 12/3 (1797/98) [20:03]
Sonata No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 23, (1801) [20:46]
Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24, ‘Spring’ (1801) [25:08]
Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 30/1 (1803) [23:07]
Sonata No. 7 in C Minor, Op. 30/2 (1803) [26:20]
Sonata No. 8 in G Major, Op. 30/3 (1803) [18:17]
Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 ‘Kreutzer’ (1803) [39:21]
Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96 (1812) [29:57]
Josef Suk (violin)
Jan Panenka (piano)
rec. 1966-67, Rudolfinum, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU 4077-2 [4 CDs: 58:34 + 69:19 + 44:47 + 69:27]

What a genuine pleasure to welcome back the cycle of Beethoven violin sonatas recorded in Prague by Josef Suk and Jan Panenka, taped in the Rudolfinum between October 1966 and November 1967.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, and of movements, everything sounds perfectly scaled, well balanced, perceptively played and adroitly characterised. These are performances of great elegance and musicality. Subsidiary themes, say for example accompanying violin passages, are just that. They are not inflated to become quasi-lyric themes in themselves, but neither are they relegated to aural obscurity. Balance is everything in performances like these, and the well versed Suk-Panenka duo (I heard them a couple of times in concert) has the measure of the sonatas.
The early sonatas have an easygoing charm about them, the first two Op.12 sonatas emerging with lustre. The first serious challenge arrives with Op.12 No.3. Here we find the duo responding with sufficient brio to vest the music with excitement and life. Suk is elegant but not over emotive in the slow movement. Indeed it’s a feature of his playing that it remains, as it were, on the aristocratic side in expressive matters. Panenka supports with crystal clear trills; and there’s plenty of vitality in the finale.
A highlight of No.4 in A minor remains Panenka’s staccati, part of an assured all-round performance. The Spring sonata is sweet-toned, quite relaxed and precisely articulated. There’s no luxuriating or otiose gesturing. Rubati are controlled, and Suk’s vibrato usage doesn’t widen inordinately in the slow movement. The performance remains measured, refined, precise, and a little cool.
This sense of sensitive but no-nonsense directness shouldn’t be confused with an earlier practitioner, let’s say, Joseph Fuchs, who tended to be hard-nosed about the sonatas. Don’t mistake Suk’s unwillingness to luxuriate for a lack of affection; rather it’s sensitive reserve, a quality never to be underestimated, in music or, indeed, in life. Thus the great G major sonata (No.8) is graced by just these qualities. The Kreutzer is not played as an exercise in concertante virtuosity for its own sake. This seeming lack of panache might disappoint, but much is held in reserve, and much is observed from on high.
In the last sonata great attention is paid to dynamics, to phrase shaping, to ensemble and tonal balance. Suk and the engineering team ensure his accompanying figures are precisely that. The slow movement is calibrated between intensity and reserve, and the finale is quite slow, and patrician.
The four CD box houses a decent booklet note. More than that, however, it houses ten valuable, thoughtful and convincing performances from one of the most outstanding duos of its time.
Jonathan Woolf  

Valuable, thoughtful and convincing … one of the most outstanding duos of its time.