Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3; Variations on Mozart’s ‘Se vuol’ ballare’, WoO 40
James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano)
Onyx ONYX 4177 68:25 mins
Beethoven published the first three of his sonatas for violin and piano aged only 28, yet what abundance and vitality of invention they display! And what variety of character: there’s the broad unfolding of Sonata No. 1’s first movement, proclaiming his intention to work on the largest formal scale; then the burlesque fun and games of the opening movement of No. 2 in A major with its unexpected lapses into shadowy minor keys; and the intimacy of the deeply expressive Adagio of No. 3. Evidently, he was determined to raise the elegance, pathos and formal perfection found in Mozart’s violin sonatas to an altogether more elaborate and comprehensive level.
James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong have already released a recording of Violin Sonatas Nos 6 and 9 to much praise, and this new disc in what will, presumably, be a complete Beethoven cycle, is hard to fault. Ehnes’s virtuosity, and the distinctive sweetness of his tone in more lyrical passages, is perfectly complemented by Armstrong’s sensitively-graded pianism and the irresistible ‘lift’ his left hand imparts to the bouncier passages. The recorded balance is about as good as one will get, given the weightier, thicker tone of the modern grand compared with the fortepianos Beethoven knew. The early set of Mozart variations make an engaging fill-up.