Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Sonatas Nos 4 & 5, Opp. 23 & 24; Variations on Mozart’s ‘Se vuol ballare’ WoO 40

Performed by violinist Thomas Albertus Irnberger on violin and pianist Michael Korstick.

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Gramola
ALBUM TITLE: Ludwig van Beethoven
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 4 & 5, Opp. 23 & 24; Variations on Mozart’s ‘Se vuol ballare’ WoO 40
PERFORMER: Thomas Albertus Irnberger (violin), Michael Korstick (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 99052 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas Nos 4 and 5, Opp. 23 & 24 were designed as a strongly contrasted pair, and they were originally issued together under the same opus number. Only a quirk of publishing led to their separation in a second edition: owing to an oversight, the violin part of one sonata had been printed in a vertical format, and the other in a horizontal, so in order to save the expense of re-engraving one of them, the sonatas were issued individually.

Much less well known than those pieces – the second of them is the famous Spring Sonata in F major – are the Variations on ‘Se vuol ballare’ from The Marriage of Figaro. It’s an early piece, straddling Beethoven’s Bonn and Viennese periods (the coda was added after his arrival in the Austrian capital in November 1792). In the violin accompaniment to the theme itself Beethoven mirrors the guitar-like pizzicato of Mozart’s aria, though violinist Thomas Albertus Irnberger and pianist Michael Korstick play the melody in curiously aggressive style, entirely robbing it of its element of understated sarcasm. Their performance of some of the ensuing variations is somewhat frenetic, too, though the playing itself is undeniably dazzling.

No such complaints about the account of the austere Sonata No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23 where Irnberger and Korstick are actually at their best in the scherzo-like middle movement, which they play with admirable delicateness. There’s much to admire in their Spring Sonata, as well, though they don’t always fully capture the lyrical warmth of the outer movements.

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Irnberger should, however, be dissuaded from writing his own booklet notes: his attempts to link the music to Beethoven’s love-life are misguided, to say the least. Misha Donat