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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete Sonatas for Piano and Violin
Violin Sonata No.1 in D Op. 12 No.1 (1797-98) [21:58]
Violin Sonata No.2 in A Op,12 No.2 (1797-98) [16:42]
Violin Sonata No.3 in E flat, Op.12 No.3 (1797-98) [19:06]
Violin Sonata No.4 in A minor, Op.23 (1800) [20:51]
Violin Sonata No.5 in F, Op.24 Spring (1800-01) [24:20]
Violin Sonata No.6 in A, Op.30 No.1 (1801-02) [22:56]
Violin Sonata No.7 in C minor, Op.30 No.2 (1801-02) [26:12]
Violin Sonata No.8 in G, Op.30 No.3 (1801-02) [17:46]
Violin Sonata No.9 in A, Op.47 Kreutzer (1802-03) [38:42]
Violin Sonata No.10 in G, Op.96 (1812) [29:35]
Tasmin Little (violin)
Martin Roscoe (piano)
rec. December 2014 (Op.12 Nos 2 and 3, Opp. 23, 24, 47), July 2015 (remainder)
CHANDOS CHAN10888(3) [3 CDs: 77:46 + 79:41 + 80:46]

Tasmin Little’s Chandos contract allows her to pursue several recording projects and I’ve had the opportunity to listen to all of them: among them her further exploration of the broadly twentieth-century repertoire, as in her Respighi/Strauss sonata disc with Piers Lane (CHAN10749), her British Sonatas edition (CHAN10770) and also her examination of the core repertoire (Schubert, on CHAN10850). Her latest disc most certainly fulfills the last named heading, given it’s the complete Beethoven sonatas where she is partnered by one of her long-term accompanists, Martin Roscoe.

The sessions took place at Potton Hall in December 2014 and July 2015 and attest to the collegiate partnership of the two musicians; both Roscoe and Lane bring complementary qualities to their work with Little, but thus far it’s Roscoe who has partnered her in these ‘canonic’ interpretations on disc. It hardly needs saying that these are scrupulously prepared, cogently argued and richly toned readings. An obvious starting point is the Spring Sonata, sung sweetly and sympathetically. The contours of this performance remind me very much of the classic Perlman-Ashkenazy recording – they were equally leisurely, not least in the opening movement – though the byplay in the scherzo was wittier in the case of the older pairing. The Little/Roscoe team does take an extended view of both outer movements and the dangers of over-inflation and a lateral approach – that sometimes afflicted their Schubert – is certainly present here too. The Kreutzer opens with an especially introspective violin statement and here the playing is more vital, as befits the nature of the music itself, encouraging the occasional raw-sounding note in Little’s passagework. Clarity and interplay are excellent, the variations in the central movement – all separately tracked – well paced, and the finale eager and vibrant. Those raised on Heifetz, Francescatti or Szeryng will find that performances of this sonata have engorged themselves over the last few decades.

One source of mild disappointment for me, after several listens, remains Op.96. There is something just too practiced about the opening, even if the tempo marking is Allegro moderato. Even those moments of Úlan lack a degree of spontaneity and at such times I wished for the adrenalin of one of their live performances. Though Little fines down her vibrato in the slow movement – during performances of which I often find it hard to banish memories of Szigeti and Arrau – the full expressive potential of the music agonizingly escapes Little and Roscoe. Their finale is again measured, but Little rightly cedes primacy to Roscoe at certain important strategic moments but this remains a relative disappointment.

The Op.12 set is stylistically apt, and Little’s richly rounded tone does it justice. She plays the variations of Op.12 No.1 particularly well and the finale of the Salieri-dedicated No.2 with requisite buoyancy. Op.23 marries tautness in the opening with decorous elegance in the central movement. Roscoe catches the ear in Op.30 No.2, where his lively, pawky inflections point to the powerfully galvanizing role played by these sonatas ‘for piano and violin’. One of the best performances is Op.30 No.3 where the music’s liveliness is brought out with engaging vibrancy and where Roscoe’s nagging little bass line in the Minuet is a delight, Little’s alacrity and vitality in the finale equally so.

There’s much to enjoy and admire in these focused, richly textured performances. Some of the limitations that surfaced in their Schubert reappear here, but maybe that is simply saying that they have a consistency of vision that will appeal to some more than to others. The recording, rich but not plush, accords well with the Little-Roscoe ensemble sonority.

Jonathan Woolf

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