Although they don’t encompass the same colossal range of musical development that runs through many of the other genres Beethoven tackled throughout his career – the symphony, string quartet and piano sonata – the 10 violin sonatas are nevertheless a remarkable body of work.
All but the 10th come from the relatively condensed period of 1798-1803, yet within this microcosm is a dazzling world of masterly invention – especially vivid in these engaging performances by hot-property Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos in a well-matched collaboration with pianist Enrico Pace.
Beethoven takes the developments of his classical forebears Haydn and, to a greater extent, Mozart and runs with them – right from the first sonata, the violin and piano are equal partners, an ethos adopted effectively by the soloists here.
Kavakos’ tone is both sweet and full-blooded, never overblown; Pace’s contribution is lithe, characterful and sensitive. Both are crucial to the album’s success – although you would never guess from the cover photo of Kavakos alone, and the fact that Pace’s name appears in much smaller print.
In the hands of Kavakos and Pace the opening chords of Op.12 No.1 are a positive statement of intent for the whole cycle – bold, incisive and bristling with energy – and the set proceeds to bubble along with terrific energy; slow movements are graceful and luminous. The honeyed opening melody of the “Spring” sonata, and the dreamy, mill-pond tranquillity of its Adagio, are highlights.
The duo doesn’t succumb to the temptation of imposing a late-Beethovenian romantic weight onto these early works – the performances sing and dance with youthful vigour, paying due homage to the music’s classical roots, and finely harnessing the exciting romantic frisson that Beethoven injects into the mix. Aptly, the grandeur is notched up for the final sonata – Kavakos’ professed favourite – Op.96 from 1812.
The Decca recording is clear and immediate, though a shade too closely miked, and the stereo separation of the two instruments is a little too defined. That aside, this vital, joyous set of Beethoven’s boundary pushing sonatas takes its place among the very best.
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