Sonata in E flat for Piano and Violin, Op.12/3
Sonata in A for Piano and Violin, Op.47 (Kreutzer)
Viktoria Mullova (violin) & Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano)
Recorded 14 & 16 December 2009 in Wyastone Leys, UK
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2010
CD No: ONYX 4050
Duration: 55 minutes
This might be described as the ‘shock of the old’, a re-hearing of familiar music, specifically the dry clattering sound of the piano, here a fortepiano manufactured by Anton Walter und Sohn in 1822 – but, increasing deafness aside, it is what Beethoven himself would have been familiar with in his early life and written for. Of course, after a little, the ear adjusts and then finds much that is revealing and convincing. Played here with relish by Kristian Bezuidenhout, the instrument’s clarity in quick runs is a joy, so too its velvety softness in the bass area. By contrast, Viktoria Mullova’s Guadagnini violin, here with gut strings and played with a “lighter transitional bow”, is less ‘different’ in sound to a Stradivarius played in a full-on manner , but is afforded a weightlessness and lucidity that is complementary to the piano and which also shines given Mullova’s virtuosity.
Although both musicians here have sterling techniques, they serve these sonatas with searching interpretations. The E flat work is enjoyed for its novelty, diversion, good humour and joy. The slow movement is brought off with intimacy, and the bright and bouncy finale enjoys a moderate tempo, one ensuring that all of Beethoven’s witticisms are articulated clearly.
As for the great ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata, this receives a vibrant and sensitive reading, Mullova and Bezuidenhout knocking sparks off each other but not for showmanship purposes for the music’s energy and lyricism is dynamically and lovingly attended to. It’s a headlong but controlled performance, Mullova even contributing a few (startling but persuasive) twirls of her own at the return of the first-movement exposition. This is not as gutsy an account as some (or as mellow as the majestic Deutsche Grammophon version by Yehudi Menuhin and Wilhelm Kempff) but that has to with the chosen instruments rather than through the performers, each energised and focussed and who also respond brilliantly to each other. Mullova’s expressive playing is a particular pleasure, so too the growth of the second-movement Variations; much delight here, from performers and this listener, as the music is taken on its varied but interrelated course.
The venue used for this recording is just a little too spacious, but the balance is good – as it needs to be for music designated as being for piano and violin (not that Onyx presents it thus). Just occasionally the violin dominates, perhaps reflecting more the personality of Mullova rather than any misjudgement in equality. The odd reservation aside, this is a stand-out and must-have release, both as thoroughly engrossing performances and a fine-tune for the ears.