Beethoven: Violin Sonatas & Cello Sonatas (complete)

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Violin Sonatas & Cello Sonatas (complete)
PERFORMER: Christian Ferras (violin), Paul Tortelier (cello), Pierre Barbizet, Eric Heidsieck (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 73807 2 ADD mono/stereo Reissue (1959-73)
Paul Tortelier’s performances of the Beethoven cello sonatas, recorded in the early Seventies, are in the main deeply satisfying, with his strong personality shining through every note. The question of repeats is intelligently addressed throughout, and in the scherzo of the beautiful A major Op. 69 Tortelier and his pianist, Eric Heidsieck, hit on a happy solution to the vexed question of dynamics. Beethoven seems to have had difficulty in deciding whether the scherzo’s opening theme should be played piano or fortissimo, and Heidsieck opts for fortissimo on the first two occasions, and a very effective shadowy piano the last time. Only the brooding slow movement of the last Sonata, Op. 102/2, disappoints, with Heidsieck playing the shuddering accompaniment of the reprise in a delicate staccato, making this intensely tragic moment sound almost light-hearted.

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There is much to enjoy, too, in Christian Ferras’s performances of the violin sonatas – not least, the warmth of his tone and the musicality of his phrasing. A few tempi seem misjudged: the middle movement of Op. 12/2 is more like an Adagio than the gentle Allegretto Beethoven indicates; the opening Presto of the A minor, Op. 23, is too sedate by far (Kremer and Argerich inhabit an altogether different, much more dangerous, world here); and the lyrical variation finale of Op. 30/1 is rather garbled. A pity, too, not to have the repeat in the opening movement of the Spring Sonata and the wonderful last Sonata, Op. 96; and that the booklet for the whole enterprise is in French only.

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A valuable reissue all the same, even if neither of these sets would be quite my first choice. For the cello sonatas the recent recording by Heinrich Schiff and Till Fellner is generally more challenging; while in the violin sonatas the field is still led by Perlman and Ashkenazy, and the more erratic but more exciting Kremer and Argerich. Misha Donat