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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonatas for Violin and Fortepiano - Volume 2
Sonata no. 6 in A, op.30 no.1 [24:54]
Sonata no. 7 in C minor, op.30, no.2 [28:45]
Sonata no. 8 in G, op.30 no.3 [22:00]
Sonata no. 9 in A, op.47, ‘Kreutzer’ [41:31]
Sonata no. 10 in G, op.96 [28:38]
Elizabeth Wallfisch (violin), David Breitman (fortepiano)
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6247 [75:39 + 70:09]

Elizabeth Wallfisch is a familiar and important name in the field of ‘historic’ or ‘period’ performance. She can be found listed not only as a soloist, but as a chamber music player and a director of various ensembles, from Tafelmusik Canada to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. She comes, too, from a celebrated musical family, married to ’cellist Raphael Wallfisch, and granddaughter of the conductor Albert Coates. She is teamed up here, in the second volume of their Beethoven Violin Sonatas, with the pianist and academic David Breitman, who teaches at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio.

Wallfisch says that to record these sonatas had been a ‘dream’ for her and Breitman for years. Wallfisch plays on a Seidl copy of a Guarnerius violin, while Breitman uses no less than three instruments over the series of CDs; on this volume, he has chosen a copy of a 1792 Walter fortepiano for op.30 and op.47, and a copy of a Streicher instrument from 1814 for op.96. Wallfisch has also used a bow by James Dodd from the 1780s (shame on Nimbus for falling victim to the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’ – ‘1780’s’!).

This rigorous approach to the tone and balance of the instruments is not only admirable – it pays real dividends for the listener. So often one hears performances using a modern grand in which the violin’s tone is dwarfed by the vast resonance of the keyboard instrument. Not so here; the choice of instrument means that Breitman can relish Beethoven’s often rugged piano writing, and use plenty of weight in the bass register without destroying the relationship and balance between the two instruments.

These sonatas are such fantastic music, and there absolutely nothing ‘academic’ about these performances. There is a clear feeling of ‘con amore’, and of two fine instrumentalists having a great time exploring these masterpieces. Wallfisch doesn’t eschew the expressive possibilities of the violin; for example in the lyrical music of the Allegro con brio of the C minor sonata op.30 no.2 she really surprised me in her unashamed shifts and portamenti, completely convincing and stylish as they are.

The duo are possibly at their absolute best in the brilliant allegro assai of op.30 no.3 in G. Their realisation of those moments when the music suddenly changes to a withdrawn pianissimo, with distant thunder in the piano left hand, are thrillingly realised, and gives me the opportunity to praise the recording, which is mostly very fine. Here and there (e.g. in the Minuetto of op.30 no.3) the violin has a little too much presence, but this is no doubt as much to do with the players themselves as the producer.

There are of course many, many fine recordings of this repertoire. I have always had deep affection for Henryk Szeryng and Ingrid Haebler on their Philips set from the 1990s, and more recently Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov perform superbly on Harmonia Mundi. But these are, of course, on modern instruments, and the only direct comparison on historic instruments appears to be the set by Hiro Kurosaki and Linda Nicholson (Accent 24214), which lacks the passion and imagination found here. In the booklet, David Breitman says ‘Playing this music has been a thrill for us – we hope it brings joy to you too’. This fine duo have certainly achieved that goal.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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