The Beethoven Project at The Red Hedgehog: Sonatas for Piano & Violin (1)

Beethoven
Sonata in D, Op.12/1
Sonata in A, Op.12/2
Sonata in E flat, Op.12/3
Sonata in F, Op.24 (Spring)

Paul Barritt (violin) & James Lisney (piano)


Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 27 May, 2007
Venue: The Red Hedgehog, Highgate, London N6

The Beethoven Project is a series of recitals (this was the first) of the complete sonatas for piano and violin by Beethoven. They are being presented over three Sunday afternoons, ending on 24 June. The venue for this adventure is The Red Hedgehog in Highgate, London, which is a smart café by day and a cosy recital venue at night.

Paul Barritt and James Lisney have released a complete cycle of the sonatas on the Woodhouse label. This recital presented the three Opus 12 sonatas and the ‘Spring’, leaving Opus 23 to the next concert. Before each sonata the musicians took it in turn to introduce the work, which was very welcome. The main theme of the little talks was to stress that this would not be an arduous endeavour for either listener or player as the sonatas, almost uniquely in Beethoven’s output, are never too downbeat, if at all. The players’ enthusiasm was evident throughout and the communication between them was obvious, with plenty of eye contact, ensuring that every sonata had control and clarity.

The Opus 12 triptych of sonatas, dedicated by Beethoven to Antonio Salieri, received a justly bright interpretation. The last movement of the First Sonata, a rondo in 6/8 time, danced all the way to its conclusion, with the players trying to keep up with each other’s rapid playing, to electrifying effect. The mood of the music was rather difficult to establish in the middle movement of the Second Sonata, veering between angst and searching, but this gave way to much safer and secure playing in the finale. Images of landscapes come naturally with this music: for example, the stormy first movement of the E flat with occasional shafts of sunlight through the dark grey clouds. The ferocity of the playing here was breathtaking, especially given the musicians’ close proximity to the audience. Similarly the final movement, but the middle Adagio con molto was hypnotic, with seductive playing from Barritt.

The ‘Spring’ Sonata was given uplifting treatment. There was a reasonably brutal attack from the violin in places that brought in to stark relief the sweetest Adagio molto espressivo one could hope to hear. With a sense of some foreboding later on, the battle between both emotions is what keeps one interested in this music. A delightful, very short scherzo led into a terrifically-played final movement.

What was most evident was the productive partnership between these two musicians. They played in just the way required by this music: as equal partners. The cycle continues on 10 June and concludes on 24 June.

  • The Red Hedgehog
  • The Red Hedgehog is situated at 255-257 Archway Road, Highgate, London, N6 5BS
  • Box Office: 020 8348 5050

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