Beethoven Violin Sonatas

5 of 5 stars

Beethoven

Sonata in D for Piano and Violin, Op.12/1

Sonata in F for Piano and Violin, Op.24 (Spring)

Sonata in G for Piano and Violin Op. 30/3

Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin) & Huw Watkins (piano)

Recorded 9-11 September 2019 at the Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, Suffolk, UK


Reviewed by: David Truslove

Reviewed: August 2020
CD No: SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD618
Duration: 64 minutes

This release launches a planned cycle of Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas from Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Huw Watkins. “Beethoven has been at the heart of our recital programmes for the past dozen years or so”, says the violinist. These outstanding musicians cherish the composer’s combination of relaxed lyricism and rhythmic fun and games that form the heart of this compilation spanning 1798 to 1802.

That Waley-Cohen and Watkins have an innate response to one another’s touch is evident in the gentle ebb and flow of the slow movement of Opus 12/1 (its changes of mood wondrously conveyed) or in the catch-me-if-you-can Scherzo from the Spring Sonata which comes with full marks for its homicidal tempo!

While their collaboration does much to underline Beethoven’s direction that these are Sonatas for Piano and Violin, the performances are not without powerful individual expression; in the opening bars of Opus 12/1 one can almost hear sparks flying off Waley-Cohen’s bow. There’s a nice balance between the emphatic and the tender as she applies the most delicate brushstrokes for whispered intimacies, poetry yielding to mystery in the brief development where Watkins revels with impish delight in Beethoven’s playful arpeggios. I particularly enjoy the way the players feed off one another in the dancing Finale, its vitality at times combustible but tension-filled too in the dolce episodes. 

The opening of the ‘Spring’ is also gratifyingly dolce, Waley-Cohen’s soothing and perfectly weighted ‘birdsong’ balanced by Watkins’s carefully calibrated support. It’s not all sweetness from the violinist, as her confiding tone can also bristle with savage intensity. Yet the Adagio inhabits a perfect meeting of minds, delivered with sustained rapture. It’s not quite Isabelle Faust & Alexander Melnikov, but it runs pretty close.

I’ve got no reservations about Opus 30/3; its opening Allegro assai brims with energy as Waley-Cohen’s violin pierces the air like an acetylene torch. Explosive her playing maybe, there’s a sense from this compelling account of business as usual, mindful perhaps of Beethoven resuming an appetite for life just weeks after a despairing letter from Heiligenstadt suggested he had contemplated suicide. The balm of the slow movement is beautifully achieved, while the Finale brings playing of dazzling brilliance, its life-affirming wit tirelessly bouncing off the page.

Overall, an impressive addition to the catalogue with excellent sound and an engaging booklet note.

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