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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 Kreutzer [32:29]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata in C major, K 296 [15:49]
Ma Si-hon (violin)
Tung Kwong-Kwong (piano)
rec. c. 1959

Ma Si-hon (1925-2009) and Tung Kwong-Kwong (?-2013) were a husband and wife team who, as a duo, performed works for violin and piano many times in addition to forging independent careers as soloists. Ma Si-Hon was born near Canton, China, on April 3, 1925, and in 1948 enrolled at the New England Conservatoire, Boston, where he studied with Richard Burgin. On August 15, 1967, the 60th anniversary of the death of Joachim, Ma purchased the maestro's Stradivarius, the instrument he gave the first performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto on.  When Ma died in 2009, he gifted the violin to the New England Conservatoire.

The duo's discography is scant by any standards, and I could only find this one recording featuring Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata and Mozart's K296 on a 1950s Insignia Records LP readily available. It is from here that these transfers have been taken. The recording pre-dates Ma's 'Joachim' Stradivarius acquisition, which is something of a disappointment, although the instrument he uses here has a beautiful rich, silky, rounded tone.

Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata gets a full-bloodied account. The slow introduction prepares the ground for the turbulent intensity and fireworks that are to come. The performance surfs the full ambit of emotions in this richly diverse work where we encounter combat, fury, wit and ardent lyricism. The second movement theme is magically realized, with the variations imaginatively characterized, whilst the finale has sufficient effervescence and bite.

The Mozart Sonata is imbued with Viennese elegance and charm, with crisply articulated outer movements. There's a tangible sense of abandon, confidence and enjoyment. By contrast, the slow movement is eloquently contoured and persuasive.

Ma Si-hon commands a flexible vibrato, and his intonation is dead of centre for the most part. Suave position changes ala Heifetz are not part of his arsenal, and neither does he possess the infinite palette of colour of the older violinist. However, it is evident that both players have rehearsed and performed together a great deal, an advantage of being married I suppose. They live and breathe together and have a mutual understanding and respect for one another. This results in a compelling singularity of vision. They offer nicely paced readings. The recorded sound is very agreeable, as is the balance between them.

Forgotten Records includes a brief biography of the performers in French.

Stephen Greenbank

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