Beethoven: Complete Violin Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Complete Violin Sonatas
PERFORMER: Renaud Capuçon (violin), Frank Braley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 964 2001

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Renaud Capuçon’s and Frank Braley’s performances of these great works are admirably warm and expressive – perhaps even too much so at the start of Beethoven’s very first Violin Sonata, where their leisurely tempo doesn’t convey the music’s sense of nervous abruptness  quite as vividly as does the recent recording by Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien (on Wigmore Hall Live, reviewed in July).

Nevertheless, this new cycle is unfailingly musical, and it can hold its own with the best of its predecessors.  In particular, the French players’ performance of the last and greatest sonata, Op. 96 – one of the many masterpieces Beethoven dedicated to Archduke Rudolph – is as beautiful as any rendition that I can remember.  

In the earlier sonatas, Capuçon and Braley occasionally underplay the music’s quirkiness (a feature of these pieces that provoked criticism from Beethoven’s contemporaries). The dynamic contrasts in the opening movement of the Sonata Op. 12 No. 2, for instance, are slightly smoothed over, and the ritardando the performers introduce into the closing bars of the piece weakens the wit of Beethoven’s deliberate non-ending.

They make a meal of the same sonata’s middle movement, too, playing it more ponderously than the composer can have intended. On the other hand, it feels as though they don’t quite plumb the depths of the fine slow movement in the following sonata – the expressive high-point of the Op. 12 triptych.

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In this instance, the off-beat chords of the accompaniment are too emphatic to enable the slowly evolving melody to take wing. But these are small blemishes in a finely-judged and well recorded cycle that brings a great deal of pleasure. Misha Donat