Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas Nos 6 & 9 performed by James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 6 & 9
PERFORMER: James Ehnes (violin), Andrew Armstrong (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4170

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The Kreutzer Sonata is placed first, so we hear James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong presenting their credentials in turn – Ehnes with effortless accurate double stops, and Armstrong picking up the thread, matching phrasing and mood. The turbulent main section of the movement is absolutely precise in ensemble, and projects a wide gamut of tone and dynamics. Armstrong’s louder playing, at least as captured in the recording, can be a little harsh, and, on the other side of the coin, Ehnes’s little knowing touches of vibrato can be overly sentimental. Similarly, in the Andante, the sweetness of his sound seems over-much for the simplicity of the theme. The variations are well contrasted though, in colour and pace, and there’s some beautifully light but sonorous playing from Armstrong. Again, in the finale, his big chords tend to be brash, but this is an energetic, rhythmically taut performance, with complete technical assurance.

In the earlier sonata, recorded in a different location, the piano sound is warmer – a combination of the instrument and the acoustic, I suspect – and there is even better balance between the two players. This suits the basic character of this sonata – despite the odd Beethovenian outburst, this is a lyrical rather than a dramatic work, no more so than in the central Adagio. Unusually, this is in rondo form, and the final movement is a set of variations, which finds both performers at the top of their game, weaving the sequence of different speeds and emotions into a coherent, satisfying tapestry.

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Martin Cotton