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15.7.10

Isabelle Faust's Beethoven

available at Amazon
Beethoven, Complete Sonatas for Piano and Violin, I. Faust, A. Melnikov

(released on September 8, 2009)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902025.27 | 3h38

Online scores:
Beethoven, Violin Sonatas 1–10
Last week it was Isabelle Faust's new recording of three of Bach's six pieces for unaccompanied violin. She brings the same approach -- part personal vision, part historically informed performance (HIP) practice -- to this new recording of Beethoven's ten sonatas for violin and piano. She is paired with Russian pianist Alexander Melnikov, and once again they have turned for help to HIP specialist Andreas Staier, who cut his teeth as harpsichordist of Musica Antiqua Köln and happens to have been one of Melnikov's teachers. So, although the instruments are modern, the tempi are often fleet, the rhythm taut and vivacious, the violin's vibrato kept to a minimum, the articulations crisp and varied, and the dynamics exquisitely shaped but leaning toward the contained. It is a recording that is so alluring across all ten sonatas, captured in superb sound, that it could serve quite nicely as one's only recording of these outstanding pieces.

With perhaps one caveat. The recording of the 'Kreutzer' (no. 9, op. 47) is the same, I think, as the one released on her earlier recording, where it was paired with Beethoven's violin concerto. If one went directly to that disc first upon opening the set -- the only drawback to the set is the packaging, which places the booklet at the center of an outwardly folding box, glued into place, making reading onerous -- it might turn you off from the whole thing. The sound seems closer, making Faust's more muscular gestures a little in-your-face, and the sound of the other nine sonatas has a better balance. The 'Kreutzer' is also a little over-urgent in interpretation, too, although it has many pleasant surprises, like the arpeggiated cadenza Faust adds to the first movement, on the repeat of the exposition at measure 27 -- on the C major chord, where there is a fermata (so why not?), in imitation of what the score indicates for the pianist to do nine measures later. With the other sonatas, some of which the musicians encountered for the first time preparing for this recording, there seems less history, less searching for the outlying interpretation. A bonus DVD, on the reverse side of the fourth disc, includes a little "Making of" video. It shows the musicians and their recording engineer, Martin Sauer, both being very critical and thoughtful of each phrase and also relaxing between sessions. At one point, Melnikov flies a remote-controlled helicopter around the studio, landing it on the piano.

Some listeners may be put off by the incisive quality of playing. My first recording was Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca/London), and it still has considerable appeal but it would no longer receive my highest recommendation, especially because it remains expensive in re-release. The other more recent recordings that are most in competition with Faust are Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich (DG, hard to find now as complete set), which has unfortunately been repackaged in an 8-CD set with Brahms and others' violin sonatas or, much better, as Volume 7 of DG's Complete Beethoven set, again with a few other pieces (pretty affordable as an MP3 download). Edging it out slightly is Augustin Dumay and Maria João Pires (also DG), primarily because it is on a good sale at the moment at Arkiv Classics (marked down 40%). For something more "old school" (one should have more than one take on these works), there is David Oistrakh and Lev Oborin (Philips, discounted complete set) or Arthur Grumiaux with Clara Haskil (Brilliant Classics, complete set discounted in re-release). Grumiaux later began a complete set with Claudio Arrau (Philips/Eloquence, not digital), but completed only six of the ten sonatas, sadly not including the 'Kreutzer', which is a fatal flaw. For historical appeal and local flavor, there is also Joseph Szigeti's complete set with Claudio Arrau (Vanguard Classics), recorded in live concerts at the Library of Congress (the sound is mono, scratchy and not very good, but these are great performances).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you are missing one of the best; Suk/Panenka.

Odd Rydland