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Ludwig Van Beethoven
Violin Sonata No.3 in E Flat Opus 12 No.3
Violin Sonata No 9 in A Opus 47 "Kreutzer"
Viktoria Mullova, Violin
Kristian Bezuidenhout, Fortepiano

Review By Phil Gold

 

  Kristian Bezuidenhou, the South African born pianist, was reviewed here recently in a disc of Mozart Sonatas, Fantasias and Variations on the harmonia mundi label, and now he appears with virtuoso violinist Viktoria Mullova in the highlight of the violin sonata repertoire, Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata. Once again he is playing an original instrument fortepiano, but this time a much softer instrument, an 1822 Anton Weber und Sohn. Mullova is playing her own Guadagnini violin, strung here with thick gut strings and played with a lighter transitional bow. The recording, which also includes the earlier E Flat Sonata, Opus 12 No.3, was made in December 2009 at Wyastone Leys near the Welsh border with England.

Mullova's violin sound is strong, and for the most part modern in idiom, with excellent articulation. Therein lies a problem, since the fortepiano selected has a very soft, almost impressionistic sound, harp-like in its upper registers, thudding in the lower octaves, which makes for a rather uneven balance, with the violin sounding much like a modern instrument and the fortepiano being very much of its time. These are deliberate choices taken by the performers, and what matters most is how they might resolve this imbalance in their performance.

After taking a little while to acclimatize to this unusual contrast, I find much to recommend here. Bezuidenhout plays very directly on his most unpercussive instrument, weaving long singing lines around the far more present tone of the Guadagnini. Mullova adds some extra bridges to Beethoven's written parts, which will knock you out of your chair if you know the work well, but otherwise plays directly and passionately. Tempos are fairly brisk but never hurried, and the many great passages are played with fine phrasing and color. Neither performer reveals the full poetry in the Kreutzer as Kempff and Menuhin did in their classic account [DG 4394532], but they play with a superb understanding of each other's parts and the relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruments. It comes off as fresh as a live concert performance, and they have given us a view of how the piece may have sounded to contemporary ears.

Beethoven's E Flat Sonata is less frequently heard and by no means of the same musical quality as the Kreutzer, but Mullova and Bezuidenhout gives it a finely considered and well projected performance nonetheless. It is one of the first violin sonatas to give equal weight to the two instruments, passing the themes from one to the other, building upon Mozart's innovations in the genre.

The Onyx recording, under engineer Mike Clements, is excellent indeed. To have captured both the soft strings of the fortepiano and the full on attack of a gut stringed concert violin so that we can hear all the strands of this magnificent music without straining that is a major achievement.

 

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