Beethoven: Complete Violin Sonatas.
August Dumay, violin; Maria Joao Pires, piano. Beethoven: Complete Cycle of Trios, Vol. One. Kalichstein/Laredo/Robinson Trio
Beethoven: Complete Violin Sonatas. Augustin Dumay, violin; Maria Joao Pires, piano. Three CDs (Deutsche Grammophon, 471 495-2) Beethoven: Complete Cycle of Trios, Volume One (Op. 70 Nos. 1 & 2, Op. 97, Op. 44, Op. 121a). Kalichstein/Laredo/ Robinson Trio. Two CDs (Arabesque, Z6758-2)
These recordings by two renowned, long-established ensembles illustrate dramatically different approaches to Beethoven's music—Dumay and Pires have played together for 12 years, the Trio recently celebrated its Silver Anniversary. Both groups are distinguished by consummate instrumental mastery, and perfect ensemble and stylistic unanimity. In the Dumay/Pires Sonatas, the playing is brilliant, but predominantly loud and aggressive, the sound frequently strident and clangorous. Though the violinist’s tone can soar, his vibrato is unvaryingly fast and intense. Tempos are generally sensible, but subject to drastic changes; the style is heroic, but Beethoven's text and markings, from dynamics to note lengths, phrasing, and articulation, are blithely ignored. For utmost contrast, character and expression are exaggerated and over-projected. Charm, lightness, delicacy, and emotional continuity are lost.
The performances of the trios are exactly the opposite: warm, lyrical, and expansive. Even the "Ghost," which often sounds brittle, is lyrical, bright, and light; the spectral slow movement sends shivers down the spine. The "Archduke" is grandly conceived, allowing time to make every note count. The Variations are deeply expressive and though very slow are held together by the flow of the long-breathing phrases; the Scherzo and Finale are impishly humorous. Op. 70 No. 2 is gracious and affectionate, smooth as silk and warm as velvet, with poised pacing and mood-changes; the Finale is brilliant. The rarely heard E-flat Variations Op. 44 are not as insignificant as their neglect might indicate; they are charming and ingratiating, and the players make the most of their contrasts of texture, mood, and character. Of course, the "Kakadu" Variations Op. 121a are far more interesting and arresting, from the perhaps ironically tragic introduction that prefaces Wenzel Müller’s trite little tune to Beethoven's miraculous transformations of it. The players capture their expressive seriousness, smiling delicacy, and mischievous fun very successfully.
The second volume, comprising the three trios Op. 1, Op. 11, and the posthumous B-flat major movement, is scheduled for release later this spring.
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