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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Works for Guitar and Piano
Franz Halász (guitar)
Débora Halász (piano)
rec. 2018/19, Grosser Saal der Hochschule für Musik und Theater, München, Germany.
Reviewed in SACD stereo.
BIS BIS-2505 SACD [74:40]

I much admired Franz Halász’s Bach’s Lute Suites on the BIS label (review), and about a year on have the pleasure of hearing him in duo with his wife Débora Halász in repertoire that for the most part shows the lighter side of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Pitting a classical guitar against a Steinway D grand piano might seem a tricky prospect, but the recording balance here is done very well indeed, the guitar blending with the piano where Beethoven’s writing demands it, and also able to sing through nicely. Beethoven usually sees to it that the accompaniments are transparent enough, and even in the Serenade Op. 41 where the guitar is asked to carry lines intended for flute there is no feeling that we’re missing out on any expressive points. This opening work is filled with joyously animated music and has that gorgeously lyrical Andante con Variazioni, the sublime musicianship and easy virtuosity on show here creating something infectiously attractive.

Flutes in Beethoven’s day would not have been the sonorous metal powerhouses we know today, but then neither were his pianos. The mandolin is also a different animal to the classical guitar, which to start with sounds an octave lower. The mandolin sustains less than the guitar, and so there is a choice to be made in the Sonatina in C minor, to take a slower tempo and sustain the notes with tremolo, or do what the Halász duo does and take pretty much a double tempo and just play the notes individually. This they do with great lyrical expressiveness, though perhaps a little more spaciousness in those outer sections might have worked even better. The contrasting Sonatina in C major is a showpiece with which the duo has great fun, the guitar smoother and more lounge in character when compared to the more laddish mandolin.

Beethoven was starting to be considered as Mozart’s successor not long after the latter’s death in 1791, and the 12 Variations in F major on ‘Se vuol ballare’ from Le nozze di Figaro and 12 Variations in F major on ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’ from Die Zauberflöte are both fitting tributes, and filled with delightful colour and contrast in these performances. The Five Pieces for Mechanical Clock are shrouded in mystery when it comes to their real origins, but they are all very fine pieces, WoO 33b No. 1 played on piano and WoO 33b No. 2 arranged for guitar solo, adding some nice contrast to the programme as a whole.

Beautifully recorded and presented, this is a very fine disc indeed in BIS’s usual SACD hybrid format that can be reproduced in 4.0 surround sound as well as standard and SACD stereo. It’s the kind of disc you want around for cheering yourself up on a rainy weekend, with the Halász duo’s sparkling synergy creating a palpably positive energy without ever going beyond those sometimes intangible boundaries of musical idiom, taste and decorum.

Dominy Clements

Previous review: Brian Wilson

Disc contents
Serenade in D major, Op. 41 (orig. for flute and piano, 1803) [21:10]
Sonatina in C minor, WoO 43a (orig. for mandolin & piano, 1796) [3:48]
12 Variations in F major on ‘Se vuol ballare’, WoO 40 (orig. for violin & piano, 1792-93) [10:21]
Sonatina in C major, WoO 44a (orig. for mandolin & piano, 1796) [2:16]
Adagio ma non troppo in E flat major, WoO 43b (orig. for mandolin & piano, 1796) [3:45]
Andante con Variazioni in D major, WoO 44b (orig. for mandolin & piano, 1796) [7:34]
Pieces originally for mechanical clock (1794/1799-1800)
Adagio in F major, WoO 33a [4:19]
Allegro non piů molto in C major, WoO 33b [4:44]
Scherzo. Allegro in G major, WoO 33a [1:36]
Allegretto in C major, WoO 33b [5:02]
Allegro in G major, WoO 33a [1:54]
12 Variations in F major on ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’ Op.66 (1796, arr. Carulli 1825) [8:00]

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