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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12/2 [17:49]
Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 ‘Kreutzer’ [42:21]
Sayaka Shoji (violin)
Gianluca Cascioli (piano)
rec. 2009, Teldex Studio, Berlin

Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12/1 [22:50]
Sonata No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 12/3 [21:50]
Sonata No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 23 [21:55]
Sayaka Shoji (violin)
Gianluca Cascioli (piano)
rec. 2011, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg

Sonata No. 7 in C Minor, Op. 30/2 [27:47]
Sonata No. 8 in G Major, Op. 30/3 [20:08]
Sayaka Shoji (violin)
Gianluca Cascioli (piano)
rec. 2011, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg

In July of this year I favourably reviewed the latest recording made by the Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji, partnered by the Italian pianist Gianluca Cascioli (review). It was the fourth and final volume of their survey of the complete violin and piano sonatas by Beethoven. The cycle took seven years to complete, and unfortunately the other three volumes in the series had passed me by. I’m now grateful to have the opportunity to review them.

The more lightweight fun-loving character of the Sonata No. 2 in A Major is a fitting prelude to the more serious and large-scaled Op. 47. It’s obvious when listening to the ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata that these players have lived with this music for a time, as the performance displays the maturity and vision of sustained acquaintance. Their grasp of the structure and architecture of the work guarantees its success. The opening Adagio sostenuto has tremendous poise and authority and sets the scene for the drama that follows. The Variation movement is elegant and imbued with lyricism, where each player is given his/her moment in the sun. The spirited finale is both fiery and impish in character.

Shoji and Cascioli certainly step up to the mark with the mighty proportions and virtuosic demands of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 12, No. 3 The technical challenges of the piano part are scarcely matched in the sonatas that were to follow, with the possible exception of the Kreutzer. They deliver a reading on the grand scale, with a noble and powerful opening movement. A ravishing Adagio follows, and the finale is upbeat and brimming with verve and Úlan. The sonata is framed by the D Major, Op. 12/1, which has an assertive opening, and a well-characterized middle variation movement. To end the disc we have the Sonata No. 4 in A Minor, a performance which contrasts the underlying tension and restlessness of the outer movements with the graceful simplicity of the central Andante.

Programming the Sonata No. 7 in C Minor, Op. 30/2 with Sonata No. 8 in G Major, Op. 30/3 shows intelligence, aside from their contiguous opus numbers. The fateful C minor opening of Op. 30/2 ushers in a movement characterized by struggle and anguish. Cascioli’s beautifully phrased opening of the Adagio cantabile announces a pensive and wistful dialogue in which the players luxuriate in the heartfelt eloquence of Beethoven’s writing. The effect is spellbinding. The finale takes an uncompromising stance, where tension, turbulence and strife are realized to good effect. The sunny disposition of the G major Sonata provides some soothing balm after the dark C minor. I feel a particular attraction to this sonata since I came across the wonderful recording by Fritz Kreisler and Sergei Rachmaninov – a classic. The Shoji/Cascioli performance overflows with humour and affability, especially in the finale where a Haydnesque wit abounds.

In my review of volume four, I was particularly enamoured of the spontaneity and freshness these players bring to this well-trodden road. These same qualities permeate these other sonatas, where the listener is taken on a journey of discovery, with music created on the wing. The Berlin and Hamburg venues are well-matched acoustically, with sound quality and instrumental balance second-to-none. Liner notes are in Japanese only, except for English track-listings and timings and  portraits of the artists. I hope that DG will eventually issue all four volumes as a set, as it’s certainly one of the most captivating cycles of these sonatas I’ve ever heard. I look forward to further collaborations between these two artists as, on the evidence of these performances, they certainly seem to have the Midas touch.

Stephen Greenbank



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