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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonatas Op. 12: No.1 in D (1797-98) [20:44] No.2 in A (1797-98) [16:02]
Violin Sonata No.3 in E flat, Op.12 No.3 (1797-98) [20:17]
Violin Sonata No.4 in A minor, Op.23 (1800) [21:59]
Violin Sonata No.5 in F, Op.24 Spring (1800-01) [23:08]
Violin Sonata No.6 in A, Op.30 No.1 (1801-02) [22:54]
Violin Sonata No.7 in C minor, Op.30 No.2 (1801-02) [26:07]
Violin Sonata No.8 in G, Op.30 No.3 (1801-02) [19:10]
Violin Sonata No.9 in A, Op.47 Kreutzer (1802-03) [38:48]
Violin Sonata No.10 in G, Op.96 (1812) [27:29]
David Galoustov (violin)
Caroline Sageman (piano)
rec. March-June 2010 and June 2011, Théâtre National de Marseille la Crièe, France
LYRINX LYR2267 SACD [3 CDs: 79:57 + 76:44 + 79:57]

Beethoven’s complete Violin Sonatas in SACD sound, mmmm, that is an enticing prospect, and with musicians of fine pedigree this has to be a release worth considering.
You wouldn’t know it from most of the recordings, but these are in fact live performances of three concerts at the Théâtre National de Marseille la Crièe. I can’t imagine there wasn’t a certain amount of post-concert ‘tidying up’, but these certainly don’t sound heavily edited, and the audiences are exceptionally well behaved. There are a few moments of minor restlessness such as at the start of the Adagio of the Sonata No. 3, but these are of little account even on repeated listening.Applause appears at the end of the recitals, but is highly truncated. My suggestion would be either to leave it out altogether or let it run just a little longer, with a more extended fade-out. The theater acoustic is fairly dry though by no means uncomfortably so, and recording places the violin to the left and the piano to the right, so with headphones you have the impression of sitting in between the musicians. This creates a nice conversational vibe between the players, even though it’s not particularly realistic as a concert perspective.
The performances are very good musically, with keenly observed dynamics, plenty of wit in lighter movements such as the Rondo of the Sonata No. 1, beautiful expression in movements such as the Adagio cantabile of Sonata No. 7, and plenty of the sunshine and darkness contrasts which are all part of a series of pieces which always seem to have something of the biographical in them.
Of the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas available, you may have been tempted by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis, which is also available on SACD as well as being a DVD set from Deutsche Grammophon. This is a terrific and highly rewarding set, though Mutter has a tendency to play the diva even when the violin has a secondary role to the piano, which can get up your nose after a while. Caroline Sageman is less showy all-round, which means less drama and deep digging in some of the crucial moments, but a better blend when Beethoven is painting with thinner brushstrokes or has less idea what to do with the violin than with the piano part. Equally dramatic and in a big acoustic are Renaud Capuçon and Frank Braley on Virgin Classics (see review), and though the violin gets the better deal from the recorded balance, sounding closer in terms of presence than the piano, this is musically a leading prospect. Michael Cookson’s review also includes a roundup of some classic recordings in his penultimate paragraph, and as you can see there are plenty of choices around.
What all this implies is that you will find more exciting recordings dotted around the place - if greater excitement is what you are looking for that is - and not always in the context of complete sets. I’ve just been having a listen to the Kreutzer sonata in the EMI Classics Martha Argerich Edition ‘Chamber Music’ (see review), and with that edge-of-the-seat verve you get with such magnificent performances there is much to be said for shopping around when it comes to favourite pieces. While Galoustov/Sageman are very good you don’t have quite the same inspired lift from that first movement Presto, but this gives rise to a problem in this Lyrinx set which I haven’t mentioned until now.
The recordings on disc one are perfectly fine, but as we enter the dynamic peaks of the Spring sonata on disc 2 something worrying starts to emerge. Take that cadence at 3:20 and you will hear what I mean. This sounds like peak level distortion. Try as I might, I couldn’t make it go away, listening through speakers rather than headphones, changing CD players and operating through standard stereo rather than the SACD multi-channel layer. Take that first movement of the Kreutzer sonata on disc 3 as another example and have a listen to the peaks in the piano from 3:14 in. While not all of the sonatas are affected, I’m afraid as it stands these blemishes discount this Lyrinx set from any kind of recommendation, which is a great shame since the performances are highly respectable and a realistic slightly lower-key alternative to some of the more extravagantly performed sets which have been mentioned. I have tried to contact someone for comment from the label. A message was forwarded to the artistic director/founder of the label via the Lyrinx Facebook page, but I never received an answer. I will happily withdraw these observations and revise this review if it turns out to be a problem with certain batch of pressings, but I fear this is an artifact of the original engineering and therefore disastrously permanent.
Dominy Clements