Beethoven: Violin Sonatas, Opp. 23 & 30/2

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Violin Sonatas, Opp. 23 & 30/2
PERFORMER: Daniel Sepec (violin), Andreas Staier (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901919
The impetus behind this recording was the comparatively recent rediscovery of a violin belonging to Beethoven himself – part of a complete set of string quartet instruments he received as a gift from Prince Karl Lichnowsky around 1800. It’s this violin that Daniel Sepec plays here; and since Andreas Staier uses a beautifully restored 1824 Conrad Graf piano from the collection in the Beethoven-Haus at Bonn, this recording assumes special significance. Fortunately, the players don’t seem in the least bit fazed by the accumulated layers of musical history, and they give admirably dramatic performances, with all the urgency and passion Beethoven’s two minor-key violin sonatas demand. They respond well to the more easy-going middle movement of the Op. 23 Sonata, too, bringing out the wit of the violinist’s repeatedly thwarted attempts to coerce his partner back into the home key for the start of the recapitulation.

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The early variations on ‘Se vuol ballare’ from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro are small beer beside the sonatas, but the coda features a characteristic venture into the ‘wrong’ key, followed by a technically awkward keyboard trill specifically designed as a stumbling-block for Beethoven’s rival Viennese pianists. Staier and Sepec enjoy themselves in this piece too, with Staier at one point letting loose a cannon-shot from the piano’s in-built percussion effects. If you want to know what this music might have sounded like in Beethoven’s day, this fine disc provides a plausible answer; but for compelling accounts on modern instruments Martha Argerich and Gidon Kremer are hard to beat. Misha Donat