This delightful recital of Beethoven sonatas was among the earliest of the many performances that will commemorate the composer’s birth 250 years ago. Midori and Jean-Yves Thibaudet formed a perfect team for this music, in which the violin and piano are equal partners.
The first half of the program was devoted to the second and third of Beethoven’s first three sonatas for violin and piano, published as his Opus 12. Although influenced by his teachers Haydn and Salieri, they already reflect his emerging inimitable style. In the A-major Second Sonata, the duo brought out the opening movement’s pervasive playfulness, contrasting it with the somber opening theme of the Andante, in which the violin’s echoing of the piano an octave higher added an unusual dimension. In the Allegro piacevole finale, the rondo theme and variations were delightfully rendered right through to the Sonata’s abrupt ending.
With only a brief pause for a bow and re-tuning of Midori’s violin (the 1734 Guarnerius del Gesù ‘ex-Huberman’), the artists plunged into the D-major Third Sonata. Thibaudet’s expressive playing was the centerpiece of the charming opening Allegro, and he and Midori alternately brought out the tenderness of the lyrical theme of the Adagio. Another joyous Rondo brought the Sonata to an emphatic close.
After intermission, Midori and Thibaudet gave a superb performance of the ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata, the longest and most challenging of Beethoven’s ten works in that form. They built anticipation with the dramatic chords that opened the introductory Adagio sostenuto, first on violin then piano, with the main theme finally emerging at Presto tempo and featuring strong attacks, with the secondary theme providing gentler moments. Although the opening movement is quite substantial, the Andante con variazioni is longer still, its duration about the same as either of the two Sonatas that opened the program. It features four variations on a lovely theme with the two instruments sharing the limelight, each at times carrying the melody, and at others providing ornamentation for its partner. In Variation I Midori played repeated triplets as Thibaudet took the trill-laden melodic line. Brilliant violin pyrotechnics accompanied by rhythmic piano chords dominated Variation II, but Midori cast a darker spell in Variation III, then brightened in the final Variation with trills and pizzicati. Thibaudet interrupted the peaceful coda with a sudden chord to launch the Rondo finale that provided a virtuoso showcase for both players.