Beethoven: Violin Sonatas Opp. 23, 24 (Spring) & 47 (Kreutzer) – two versions (authentic and modern)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Coviello
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Opp. 23, 24 (Spring) & 47 (Kreutzer) – two versions (authentic and modern)
PERFORMER: Matthias Metzger (violin), Gerrit Zitterbart (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: COV 20904

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This pair of discs offers two sets of performances of the same three works – one on modern instruments, the other adopting a more historical approach. The interpretations themselves are more or less identical, the avowed aim of the exercise being simply to demonstrate the differences in sonority and texture resulting from the choice of instruments.

Matthias Metzger actually uses the same violin throughout, replacing its wire-wound strings with gut alternatives for the historical version. Gerrit Zitterbart makes a far more radical change, swapping his Steinway concert grand for a copy of a 1795 piano by the Viennese maker Anton Walter.

What this experiment shows – and it hardly counts as a revelation – is that arguments for and against period-instrument performance are infinitely less important than the actual quality of the music-making itself. In this case, Zitterbart’s blunt phrase-endings are slightly less prominent on the fortepiano, but he is altogether a rather wooden and unimaginative player.

Metzger provides a good deal more expressive warmth, but the performances of the agitated outer movements of the terse A minor Sonata, Op. 23, and the Kreutzer generally lack tension and urgency, while the Spring Sonata’s scherzo is too poker-faced.

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All these pieces are more compellingly played on recordings by Martha Argerich and Gidon Kremer, and there’s a fine period-performance of Op. 23 by Andreas Staier and Daniel Sepec (Harmonia Mundi). Misha Donat