Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 12, No. 3 [19:01]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major. Op. 100 [20:29]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op. 45 [22:37]
Duo Sitkovetsky (Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin); Wu Qian (piano))
rec. 2012, Limen Studio, Milan
DVD: NTSC 16.9
LIMEN CDVD018C018 CD & DVD [62:37]

I had never heard Alexander Sitkovetsky’s playing until earlier this year when he collaborated in the Beethoven Triple Concerto with cellist Natalie Clein and pianist Freddy Kempf at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. It was a captivating performance of a work not frequently aired in public. Several weeks ago I reviewed a release of the Mendelssohn Piano Trios, made for BIS by the Sitkovetsky Trio (BIS-2109 - review). It proved, for me, to be one of the listening highlights of the year. The pianist in the Trio is Wu Qian, and here she joins the violinist in three sonatas for the Italian Limen label, as the Duo Sitkovetsky. The pair, both alumni of the Yehudi Menuhin School, have been performing together for several years.

The duo address the mighty proportions and technical demands of the opening movement of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 12, No. 3 admirably, in a performance of nobility and stature. A beautiful ravishing Adagio follows, and the finale overflows with energy and vitality. The players show utter commitment to the music.

The positioning of the more lyrical Brahms Sonata between the two larger, dramatic canvases reveals both shrewd planning and balanced healthy contrast. The A major, Op. 100 inhabits a world of intimacy, affection and luminous warmth. The first movement is relaxed and affable in these player’s hands. In the Andante tranquillo, the central scherzo exudes an abundance of joy. Similarly in the finale, the player’s luxuriate in the music's ardent glow.

What better way to end this programme than with the rhapsodic Grieg Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor. It’s probably the most popular of the composer’s three. What the duo deliver is a high-octane performance on the grand scale. Sitkovetsky’s large sonority and broad tonal palette is ideal for this work. The robust, bold and assertive opening truly makes its presence felt, yet the duo can scale things down when it comes to the more expressive moments. In the slow movement, suitable contrast is made between the central dance-like section, and the lyrical outer sections which frame it. The endearing simplicity of their playing is gratifying. The finale has energy, vigour and verve, and the big passionate tune is sumptuous when it returns at the end.

This is the first CD from the Limen stable that I’ve heard, and I’m amazed by the stunning sound quality the recording engineers have achieved. You feel as though you are present in the room with the players. The balance between both instruments is ideal. It is a bonus having the DVD of the performances. Camera angles are judiciously chosen and there is no distracting panning and zooming. Everything is tastefully executed and visually satisfying. A label-authorised high definition video of the full Brahms sonata can be seen at Vimeo.

I sincerely hope there will be more to come from this duo, whose intelligent and profound musicianship ticks all the right boxes.

Stephen Greenbank