When one thinks of Beethoven cycles, the mind immediately thinks of symphonies, piano sonatas and string quartets, forms in which we see the complete range of the composer’s voice. The early ones remind us of Beethoven’s influences, such as Mozart or Haydn. The middle ones break free, reinventing the form, and the late ones astonish. In each case –solo piano, string quartet, or symphony—the forces in question trace a line of development. We see the transition begin from the classical to the romantic, the move away from perfect balance & symmetry, towards experimentation, larger forms, and romantic references outside the realm of pure music.
While I’ve played a few of the violin sonatas I can’t pretend I knew Beethoven’s cycle; indeed I didn’t realize its scope. I now have my first recording, from Duo Concertante: Nancy Dahn, violin and Timothy Steeves, piano. I had played some of the earlier ones, and did not realize there were ten in total, again describing a kind of arc through the life of the composer that reveals his growth and development through another lens. With Beethoven one never has enough such lenses, to bear witness to his boundless creativity.
While the cycle leans a bit towards Beethoven’s youth (with nine of the ten composed in the six years from 1797 to 1803, or in other words, roughly between the time he was 27 and 33, before his Third Symphony appeared in 1805), the concentration of works bears witness to progress, innovation and daring.
There’s a note on the record jacket that’s a good indication of what you find on the recordings:
We hope the permanence and consistency of these Beethoven sonatas in our daily lives and the great joy they bring to us are tangible in these recordings.
Indeed they are. The playing is very well thought-out, interpretations that are solidly in the middle of the road. If I were to compare their approach to a set of Beethoven symphonies, I’d say they’re like von Karajan or Furtwangler: interpreters who don’t rush excessively but who make the architecture of the music transparent, with solid emphasis on the necessary contrasts. These are congenial readings of the sonatas that are neither radical nor conservative, but comfortably recognizable as Beethoven.
Dahn’s violin sings sweetly, occasionally fiery but mostly a tuneful instrument. Dahn and Steeves are joined at the hip, as though they shared one mind. Steeves is occasionally centre stage, but mostly seems to work in support of Dahn’s glamorous sound. The pristeen clarity of the recording is ideal, never too dry but with just enough reverb to comfortably display the performances.
This is a set full of stunning music that deserves to be better known; only two or three of the sonatas are what I would call “familiar”. I’m grateful to have found Duo Concertante and to have been led deeper into Beethoven through their intelligent readings of the violin sonatas.
April 22nd Duo Concertante are playing a concert at Gallery 345 in celebration of their new recordings.
Beethoven: Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano
Performance/CD Celebration by Duo Concertante
Monday, April 22, 2013 at 8PM
Gallery 345: 345 Sorauren Avenue, Toronto
Reservations can be made by calling 416 822.9781
or via email firstname.lastname@example.org