Beethoven: Violin Sonatas (complete): Spring Sonata; A major Sonata, Op. 30/1; Sonata, Op. 96

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Violin Sonatas (complete): Spring Sonata; A major Sonata, Op. 30/1; Sonata, Op. 96
PERFORMER: Augustin Dumay (violin); Maria João Pires (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 471 495-2
This is the second cycle of the Beethoven violin sonatas that DG has given us in the space of four years. While the performances by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis (insufferably self-indulgent, in my view) were taken from concerts given in close succession, these studio recordings by Augustin Dumay and Maria João Pires were set down over a period of several years. They come with the advantage of a long musical partnership, and some of the performances are as fine as you will hear anywhere: the admirably warm, relaxed view of the Spring Sonata; the subtly understated opening movement of the A major, Op. 30/1; the rapt account of the Adagio from the miraculously beautiful Op. 96 Sonata. But it is not only the lyrical side of Beethoven that suits these players: the outer movements of the Kreutzer and of the C minor Sonata, Op. 30/2, are as forceful and dramatic as one could wish.

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Elsewhere, however, doubts begin to creep in. Dumay’s reliance on non-vibrato and harmonics in some of the earlier sonatas borders on the precious; and his curiously etiolated treatment of the opening bars in the middle movement of Op. 30/1 entirely disregards the off-beat accents that are vital to the character of the melody. Also disappointing is the players’ half-hearted response to the rushing C major scales that suddenly erupt in the coda of the C minor Sonata’s otherwise serene Adagio; while their broad view of the final variation in the Kreutzer’s slow movement leads them (inadvertently?) to play two chorale-like passages near the close at double speed.

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All in all, though, this new set gives a great deal of pleasure, and can stand comparison with the most admired recordings of the past – all of which have their drawbacks. Grumiaux and Haskil (Philips), for all their wonderful musicianship, are much too easygoing in such tensely dramatic pieces as the opening movement of the Op. 23 Sonata. That Presto is incomparably well played by Kremer and Argerich, though their DG cycle is overall somewhat erratic. Perhaps the most satisfying all-round performances are those of Perlman and Ashkenazy, whose recordings still sound very well after 30 years.