The Beethoven Project at The Red Hedgehog: Sonatas for Piano & Violin (2)

Sonata in A minor, Op.23
Sonata in A, Op.30/1
Sonata in C minor, Op.30/2

Paul Barritt (violin) & James Lisney (piano)

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 10 June, 2007
Venue: The Red Hedgehog, Highgate, London N6

James Lisney. Photograph: Clive BardaThis was the second of three concerts of the complete Beethoven Sonatas for Piano and Violin at a venue which is ideally suited to chamber music and no doubt. It is also a mark of the quality of the venue that it is able to attract into the audience Mark Elder, a local resident who is also Paul Barritt’s boss at the Hallé (Barritt is one of the orchestra’s leaders, the job being shared).

The opening of the Opus 23 was grounded, yet radiated tender charm. Once again, the quality of the partnership came to the fore – the instruments each given equal footing, the players able to bring forth the best from the other, especially, as in the first movement, where they fight for supremacy. The delicacy of the piano playing was charming and almost giddy in the middle movement, the ways in which phrases were knocked back and forth between the players resembling a well contested tennis match. The rapid figurations that appear in the closing movement were given a suitably virtuoso fell by Barritt.

The Opus 30 trilogy of sonatas were dedicated by Beethoven to Tsar Alexander I. The A major’s Allegro was lightly, but not quietly, played: very Mozartean, especially in the piano’s right-hand. The clear sound of the violin seemed to sing and the Adagio, molto espressivo was elegiac but with a hint of optimism. The finale is an Allegretto of a theme and six Variations. The first got the deftness of touch it requires, with the calm repose of the second leading nicely into the Spring-like third. The extended fifth allowed Barritt to shine and Lisney’s final bars, a decrescendo from p to ppp captured one’s breath. This was splendid playing.

The life of the C minor Sonata was made forcefully clear on the piano with the ff chords towards the beginning of the first movement, even though the very opening had such an unassuming quality, as if caught in mid-thought. The sublime treatment of the slow movement was a pleasure to behold and the scherzo had a dextrous quality, the middle section characterised by legato. The textures of the Allegro finale were elucidated with clarity and the Presto coda had just the right momentum, the players’ ensemble perfect. This aspect has been the constant thread of the cycle so far: the way in which the players do not lose track of either the score or each other.

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