Vasyla Pozdnyshev, a proprietor who frequents the trains of Russia has trouble with love and women. After marrying his wife, a pianist, periods of intense romance and intense hatred fluctuate in Pozdnyshev's emotional mind, yet the two have several children and a relatively ordinary marriage… that is until Madam Pozdnyshev meets a violinist named Trukachevsky. Though the two of them never actually have an affair, they do decide to perform a violin sonata, and upon hearing the intense music, Pozdnyshev, who states that some music is powerful enough to change one's emotional core, kills his wife in a fit of insane jealousy.
This is a glance into the plot of an 1889 novella by Leo Tolstoy, and the sonata the two musicians perform in the story, is the Op.47 sonata of Beethoven, "The Kreutzer Sonata."
Beethoven composed ten sonatas for piano and violin and while the "Kreutzer" is certainly the most famous and drawn upon, the other nine are no less great. The Op. 24, named the "Spring Sonata" is one of the composers finest young works, with as much lyricism as a Mozart work, while the three sonatas op. 30 precede the three piano sonatas op. 31, and together jolt the composer in a new unprecedented direction. The "Kreutzer" stands at the beginning of one of the composer's most fruitful periods where works such as the "Eroica" symphony were written. Finally, the last sonata, Op. 96, a delicate enigma and foreshadowing of the greatest creative musical period of all time; stands alone like a lyric poem and cannot be neglected by anyone wishing to understand Beethoven's last utterances into the world of music.
The two performers, Alexander Melnikov on piano and Isabelle Faust on violin have released a recording, in impressive packaging, of all ten sonatas with a bonus DVD documenting the monumental task of recording. Clearly the center of Faust and Melnikov's efforts have been devoted towards the "Kreutzer Sonata," as the documentary focuses on this sonata, and the last CD in the collection bears only this sonata. The playing is professional, clean, and gives Beethoven credit in bringing the avant-garde of these compositions to life. Throughout the recordings, the duo at times adds notes in an improvisational style, something highly appropriate to classical music in attempting to break it free from a mold hundreds of years old. Spontaneity and improvisation is at the core of Beethoven's music and is present in the playing as well. While the early sonatas and the "Spring" sonata are played sometimes very plainly, the duo is able to reach for the central energy within the music, pulling it out in the last movements of the A major, c minor and early G major sonatas.
As an entire package, the recording is quite stunning, with a clever boxed set design and impressive graphics. The Sound engineering is excellent, typical for this label: accurate tone reproduction with vivid colors. As a concept, there is not too much creativity in putting the program together, and one would not wish to listen to each CD as a whole. They appear in chronological order excepting that the Op. 96 and the Op. 47 are reversed so as to allow the last CD to contain both the DVD and the performance of the monumental "Kreutzer." An enjoyable performance.