Beethoven: Violin Sonatas (complete)

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Violin Sonatas (complete)
PERFORMER: Benjamin Hudson (violin)Mary Verney (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5557-60
The violin’s incredible brightness of timbre in this period performance of Beethoven’s violin sonatas is startling but refreshingly different. Benjamin Hudson plays with a sparse tone – raw-edged and crystal-clear – and indulges in only a sprinkling of laid-back vibrato. The fortepiano is less convincing; Mary Verney has a refined touch, but grapples with the instrument’s clacking articulation, twanging notes in the middle register and a bass-rich tone colour which occasionally mars the balance.

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Beethoven’s gloriously expressive slow movements suffer in this period approach. In Perlman and Ashkenazy’s capable hands, the unassuming beauty of the theme and variations of Op. 12/1 in D is perfectly captured, Perlman’s ripe tone and arching phrases finely matched by Ashkenazy’s eloquent textural command. Hudson achieves a drifting lightness of tone, but does not match the grace of Perlman’s approach, and passages high on the E string sound perilously taut, even squeaky. Perlman and Ashkenazy’s fluid dovetailing in the Adagio molto espressivo of the Spring Sonata, Op. 24, is similarly out of reach, Verney’s phrasing unpredictable and uneven.

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In moments of exuberance, however, Hudson and Verney come into their own. The Spring Sonata’s opening Allegro has a shimmering brilliance quite unlike anything achieved on the Perlman recording. Hudson’s animated accents and brightness of tone make for a stylistically compelling reading, ably supported by the transparency of Verney’s dancing phrases. In the virtuosic throes of the first-movement Presto of the Kreutzer Sonata, Op. 47, Hudson’s command is impeccable. His reading lacks the emotion of Perlman’s, but his brittle-edged spiccato provides gripping contrast with the sweeping gestures of the movement’s climax. Hudson and Verney have the capacity to astound with the vitality of their interpretation, but all too often, the clumsiness of the sound is simply frustrating. Catherine Nelson