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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.7 in C minor Op.30 No.2 (1802) [29:35]
Violin Sonata No.8 in G major Op.30 No.3 (1802) [18:42]
Violin Sonata No. 9 in A minor Op.47 ‘Kreutzer’ (1803) [34:20]
Violin Sonata No.10 in G major Op.96 (1812) [29:14]
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Piano Trio in A minor Op.50 (1882) [43:06]
Pinchas Zukerman (violin); Jacqueline du Pré (cello); Daniel Barenboim (piano)
rec. Berlin, Dec. 1971, Aug.1972 and Abbey Road, London, June/July 1973 (Sonatas), and live, Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv, July 1972 (Trio) ADD
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 365224 2 [77:51 + 77:41]

These performances have been available in a number of guises over the years, from a large box including other Beethoven chamber works to the most recent Double Forte ‘twofer’. This new Gemini re-issue appears to be exactly the same as the latter and in the same lower mid-price bracket.

As to the playing itself, the Violin Sonatas have a lot of budget and mid-price competition but can be fairly safely recommended. Zukerman’s tone is sweet and plangent, lacking the rounded, muscularity of, say, Perlman on Decca but very easy to live with. Barenboim’s contribution is distinguished throughout and for me the main pleasure in these performances. The C minor Sonata has plenty of drama if fairly relaxed tempos, especially in the finale. The ‘little’ G major, often thought of as a counterpart to the ‘Spring’ Sonata, suits Zukerman’s playing perhaps best of all, with a lyrical innocence and easy charm. The grandness of the ‘Kreutzer’ is better conveyed by Perlman and Ashkenazy, whose bargain Decca disc of Nos. 9 and 10 is, for me, one of the finest things they ever did, but Barenboim’s full bodied virtuosity is certainly worth hearing. The theme and variations unfold with unfailing naturalness, though Perlman/ Ashkenazy bring more variety and contrast.

The same could largely be said of the great last Sonata in G major. Here, Perlman’s playing has a real eloquence and vitality, matched by superb attack from Ashkenazy. Zukerman and Barenboim operate on a lower voltage but once one adjusts, the rewards are there, with a poised opening movement, perky scherzo and rhythmically buoyant finale. Recording quality is pretty good, both players caught with warmth and bloom, and if there is some analogue tape hiss it’s never too intrusive.

The same can’t be said of the live, ‘warts-and-all’ version of the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio, apparently one of the last live recordings du Pré made. Balance in the notoriously dry Mann Auditorium is not ideal, with the piano rather too backward given its major contribution. It’s also a poor instrument, with a bright, clangy upper register which goes audibly out of tune as the performance progresses. There is also noisy hall ambience – including what could be a squeaky door or chair at one quiet moment!

Having got all that out of the way, the playing itself is, as one would expect from these artists, full of passion and commitment. I remember a contemporary review summarizing it as ‘touchingly indulgent’ and it does have a heart-on-sleeve sweep that carries the listener along. It’s not the last word in accuracy, particularly in some of Barenboim’s stormier passages, but the haunting first movement tune is memorably phrased and builds to a superb climax. There have been more varied accounts of the long second movement theme and variations, such as the super-refined Freddy Kempf and friends on BIS, but there’s no doubting the sincerity on offer here. The recording isn’t ideal, neither is the tinny piano sound, but these much admired artists serve the Tchaikovsky cause well, and at the price these very well filled discs can be given a thumbs up.

Tony Haywood


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