Ludwig van Beethoven
Sonata for Piano and Violin No.3 in E♭ major, op.12/3

Media Review / Comparison


2011-11-13 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-07-04 — New standard layout applied
2014-10-31 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-06-22 — Brushed up for better readability

Introduction

This is the note #3 on the recordings of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano & violin in my music collection, about the sonata in E♭, op.12/3. References to the CDs are found at the bottom of the respective section, or in one of the related postings. Alternatively, see the summary on the postings covering Beethoven’s Sonatas for Piano & Violin.

Below you find my comments on the recordings that I have for the Sonata for Piano and Violin No.3 in E♭ major op.12/3 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827). Here’s a short list of the recordings in this comparison, in alphabetic order:

The Movements

The movements in this sonata are

  1. Allegro con spirito (4/4)
  2. Adagio con molt’ espressione (3/4)
  3. Rondo: Allegro molto (2/4)

The first movement should not be played too heavy — “con spirito” implies a certain lightness. In the second movement, especially older interpretations are too slow, taking adagio (calm) for slow (which would be lento, really), and the attribute “con molt’ expressione” appears to be an invitation to use an excess vibrato, if not even extra portamenti!

With just a few exceptions, I mostly have complete recordings of all sonatas. However, for this sonata I’m adding two of a few “scattered” recordings of individual sonatas. The recording by Viktoria Mullova and Kristian Bezuidenhout was added about a year ago. I must have read some reviews describing it. On top of that, this is one of the rare recordings with period instruments. This alone gave me more than enough motivation to buy this CD. And that decision was a very good one!

Then, I saw that a recording by Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin from 1933-41 is available on iTunes, and I could not resist: for one, I was curious to hear Adolf Busch in a sonata. On top of that, I was interested in hearing Serkin play at a point in his career when he must have been better than with some of his late stereo recordings. And again, this was a good decision, see below.

The (measured) metronome numbers are approximate values only.


Yehudi Menuhin, Wilhelm Kempff (1970)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas vol.1, Menuhin, Kempff, CD coverBeethoven, The Complete Violin Sonatas, Vol.1: Sonatas opp.12, 23, 24; Rondo in G, WoO 41; 12 Variations on “Se vuol ballare” from “Le nozze di Figaro”

Wilhelm Kempff, Yehudi Menuhin

DGG 459 433-2 (stereo, 2 CD); ℗ 1970
Beethoven: Violin sonatas vol.1, Menuhin, Kempff, UPC-A barcode
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spacerYehudi Menuhin and Wilhelm Kempff (1970) — for CD information and general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 9’20”; 1/4 = 104
    Too slow, clumsy, coarse, allegretto at best, if not andante! Rhythmically inaccurate at times, especially in the piano.
  2. 7’50”; 1/4 = 28
    Way too slow, the melodies can’t be recognized — they are overstretched. The articulation is OK, though.
  3. 4’42”; 1/4 = 128
    Too slow, stiff, clumsy, the pairs of sixteenth notes are played like acciaccaturas — hard to believe that this was on purpose, but at least Kempff imitates that exactly on the piano.
Recommendation: No
Rating: 1.3 (1 / 2 / 1)

Arthur Grumiaux, Clara Haskil (1957)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Grumiaux, Haskil, CD coverBeethoven: Violin Sonatas, Complete (opp. 12, 23, 24, 30, 47, 96)

Arthur Grumiaux, Clara Haskil

Brilliant Classics 93329 (mono, 3 CD); licensed from Decca
VlSon_Grumiauz_Haskil
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spacerArthur Grumiaux and Clara Haskil (1957) — for CD information and general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 8’07”; 1/4 = 124
    Sometimes slightly unstable, rhythmically. But what I find positive on the piano: the left hand is very nicely articulated.
  2. 6’17”; 1/4 = 34
    Too much legato and vibrato in the violin. The embellishments in the piano are often somewhat heavy and loud, dominating the sound.
  3. 4’22”; 1/4 = 136
    The tempo is better than with Menuhin. However, the mono recording and the reverberation make this fairly intransparent. In addition, the artists don’t make much of an attempt to differentiate between melodies and accompaniment. And I doubt that the limited dynamic variation is due to the recording technique!
Recommendation: No
Rating: 2.7 (3 / 3 / 2)

David Oistrakh, Lev Oborin (1962)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Oistrakh, Oborin, CD coverBeethoven: The Sonatas for Piano and Violin (opp. 12, 23, 24, 30, 47, 96)

David Oistrakh, Lev Oborin

Philips 468 406-2 (stereo, 4 CD); ℗ 2001
Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Oistrakh, Oborin, CD, UPC-A barcode
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spacerDavid Oistrakh and Lev Oborin (1962) — for CD information and general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 5’55” (exposition not repeated); 1/4 = 120
    See the general remarks for op.12/1.
  2. 6’57”; 1/4 = 32
    Too slow, the melodies are overstretched, the vibrato too heavy.
  3. 4’10”; 1/4 = 140
    This is transparent and well articulated, a good tempo, and showing a well-tuned partnership between the two artists, especially in the polyphonic sections.
Recommendation: Can’t compete with newer recordings.
Rating: 2.7 (3 / 2 / 3)

Itzhak Perlman, Vladimir Ashkenazy (1975)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Perlman, Ashkenazy, CD coverBeethoven: The Violin Sonatas, Complete (opp. 12, 23, 24, 30, 47, 96)

Itzhak Perlman, Vladimir Ashkenazy

Decca 421 453-2 (stereo, 4 CD); ℗ 1974 / © 1988
Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Perlman, Ashkenazy, UPC-A barcode
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spacerItzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy (1975) — for CD information and general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 8’07”; 1/4 = 124
    Too much focus on the rapid piano passages
  2. 6’42”; 1/4 = 30 – 36
    A tad faster than Menuhin and Busch, and one can start to hear the melodies. On the other hand, the bass in the piano is sometimes rather coarse, rough.
  3. 4’19”; 1/4 = 136
Recommendation: Nothing special
Rating: 2.7 (2 / 3 / 3)

Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin (1933)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas 3 & 5, Busch, Serkin, CD cover

Beethoven: Violin Sonatas (opp. 12/3, 24, 47), Historical Recordings 1931 – 1941

Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin

Naxos 8.110954 (mono); iTunes download
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spacerAdolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin (1933) recorded this sonata in 1933, at the time of their first joint appearance in the United States. The sound quality in this recording (78 years old by now!) is amazingly good — and more balanced than Grumiaux’ / Haskil’s recording from 1956! But also the interpretation is not nearly as “old” as the recording date suggests. Adolf Busch (1891 – 1952) may not be as famous as Haifetz and other violin virtuosos — but he definitely was an excellent musician. Rudolf Serkin (1903 – 1991) at the age of 30 was at the beginning of a very long career as a pianist, after having been a child prodigy!

Comments on the Performance

  1. 5’28” (exposition not repeated); 1/4 = 132
    It may be in the nature of the recording, or it may have been deliberate: no other interpretation is that much dominated by the violin: Adolf Busch is excellent, virtuosic, articulating nicely and accurately, and presenting an almost modern interpretation! But also Rudolf Serkin back then must have been at the height of his abilities. The recording is amazingly transparent, even though mono — much better than Grumiaux / Haskil (who recorded this 23 years later!).
  2. 6’59”; 1/4 = 28 – 32
    The beginning is just as slow and overstretched as with Menuhin / Kempff, but at least they are picking up some tempo in the course of the movement. Unfortunately, the excess portamenti make the interpretation of this movement sound a bit “old”!
  3. 3’54”; 1/4 = 144 – 160
    I don’t see why they do the intermezzi much faster than the ritornello sections; on top of that, the violin articulation is sometimes rushed & not careful, but the piano is excellent, virtuoso!
Recommendation: Yes, for the first movement and for Serkin, but mostly of historic interest
Rating: 3.0 (4 / 2 / 3)

Gidon Kremer, Martha Argerich (1985)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas vol.1, Kremer, Argerich, CD coverBeethoven: Violin Sonatas Nos.1-3 (op.12)

Gidon Kremer, Martha Argerich

DG 415 138-2 (stereo); ℗ 1985
Beethoven: Violin sonatas vol.1, Kremer, Argerich, UPC-A barcode
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spacerGidon Kremer and Martha Argerich (1985) — for CD information and general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 7’47”; 1/4 = 128
    The piano dominates this movement, and the focus here is on drive, rhythm, expression. It’s not nearly as detailed (and also not as transparent and rhythmically accurate) as Capuçon / Braley or the historically informed interpretations, but certainly a good interpretation.
  2. 6’03”; 1/4 = 38
    Kremer’s vibrato at the upper limit. Otherwise they have a good tempo and show excellent articulation, especially in the piano, with the embellishments.
  3. 4’00”; 1/4 = 140
    OK, good in general — but one can see that this movement is difficult to keep balanced dynamically, between the melodies and the fast, accompanying figures. Also, in those sequences of heavy double octave parallels in eighths, for my feeling one should try holding the tempo, maybe even slow down. Here, the tempo gets faster, in a way that makes me feel that the artists get carried away; this may be OK in a live performance, but in a CD recording it can be irritating.
Recommendation: Good, but not perfect
Rating: 4.0 (4 / 4 / 4)

Renaud Capuçon, Frank Braley (2009)

VlSon_Capuçon_BraleyBeethoven: Complete Sonatas for Violin & Piano (opp. 12, 23, 24, 30, 47, 96)

Renaud Capuçon, Frank Braley

Virgin Classics LV 7873 (stereo, 3 CD); ℗ / © 2010
Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Capuçon, Braley, EAN-13 barcode
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spacerRenaud Capuçon and Frank Braley (2009) — for CD information and general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 8’07”; 1/4 = 124
    Rhythmic, very carefully articulated, accurate, transparent. There is clarity, and a very nice dialog between the violin and the left hand on the piano, very good interpretation, classic.
  2. 6’06”; 1/4 = 36
    Good tempo and articulation; I like the broken chords in the piano. With less vibrato it would be even better (scared of playing without vibrato??)!
  3. 4’20”; 1/4 = 136
    Good articulation in the violin, well-balanced recording & interpretation, the tempo is stable. Unfortunately, Braley does not always articulate very carefully on the piano: those pairs of sixteenths in the ritornello almost sound like Menuhin / Kempff!
Recommendation: OK, but not their best recording so far!
Rating: 4.3 (5 / 4 / 4)

Viktoria Mullova, Kristian Bezuidenhout (2010)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas 3 & 9, Mullova, Bezuidenhout, CD coverBeethoven: Violin Sonata Nr.3 op.12/3, Violin Sonata Nr.9 op.47 “Kreutzer”

Viktoria Mullova, Kristian Bezuidenhout

ONYX 4050 (stereo); ℗ / © 2010
Beethoven: Violin sonatas 3 & 9, Mullova, Bezuidenhout, CD, UPC-A barcode
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spacerViktoria Mullova and Kristian Bezuidenhout (2010) have recorded this sonata together with op.47 (“Kreutzer”). Kristian Bezuidenhout plays a fortepiano by Anton Walter & Sohn (1822). That’s a beautiful instrument with a sound that is distinctly different from that of modern pianos. Its light, leather-covered hammers produce a sound that is much brighter, and really rich in harmonics. Viktoria Mullova plays a Guadagnini violin with gut strings and a period bow. Note that this recording is done at a pitch of a=430 (as opposed to modern tuning at a=440).

Comments on the Performance

  1. 8’23”; 1/4 = 120
    Very transparent, very nice and clear fortepiano sound. Both artists exhibit excellent articulation throughout the entire movement. The fortepiano alters the sound proportions: one can always hear the violin very well, even where it is pp. This is among the slower interpretations, though not nearly as slow as Menuhin / Kempff. But one does not notice this, because the fortepiano sounds “busier” than a modern instrument. Mullova sometimes appears to use a rather “raw” articulation, but that’s of course due to the gut strings and the period bow. And she uses very little vibrato; all this perfectly fits the sound of the fortepiano. Excellent, overall!
  2. 5’26”; 1/4 = 36 – 44
    This is the fastest interpretation of this movement. This benefits the melodies, which now are easier to follow. I like that non-sterile, “earthy” violin sound, and the subtle, often tender and light figurations and embellishments in the fortepiano — very nice!
  3. 4’24”; 1/4 = 138
    Yet another highlight, another convincing argument for the use of period instruments. While other artists struggle with the dynamic balance in this movement, Mullova’s and Bezuidenhout maintain balance and transparency without effort. The fortepiano does not cover / dominate the violin. No uncontrolled tempo excursions here, but a few well-placed ritardandi!
Recommendation: Yes, most certainly: I’m tempted to say that this recording is a “must” — simply excellent!
Rating: 5.0 (5 / 5 / 5)

Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov (2008)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Faust, Melnikov, CD coverBeethoven: Complete Sonatas for Piano & Violin (opp. 12, 23, 24, 30, 47, 96)

Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov

Harmonia mundi HMC 902025.27 (stereo, 3 CD + 1 CD/DVD); ℗ 2009
Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Faust, Melnikov, UPC-A barcode
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spacerIsabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov (2008) — for CD information and general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 7’54”; 1/4 = 124
    Just as good as Mullova / Bezuidenhout — though entirely different in many aspects. What strikes me in this interpretation is the detailed phrasing both at small and big scales, the perfect partnership, the elaborate articulation, agogics, dynamics. One could call Isabelle Faust’s playing more modest than Mullova’s. The focus is more on the piano, while the violin is the accompanying instrument, clearly. This probably fits the composer’s intent.
  2. 6’15”; 1/4 = 36
    Again, the agogics, the articulation given by both artists are all excellent! And the amazing dynamic width, especially in the violin, from pp to ff; plus, those pianissimosottovoce sections in the piano. Melnikov can make a Steinway sound like a fortepiano: absolutely wonderful!
  3. 3’40”; 1/4 = 156 – 164
    When played at moderate speeds, this movement can have its lengths.. In fact, that sonata received some rather bad reviews when it was played for the first time. That is not a problem here: Faust and Melnikov take the allegro molto seriously. They start faster than anybody else — and they push the tempo in a continuous (but controlled!) accelerando throughout the movement. One almost feels out of breath at the end! Yet they don’t appear to have the slightest technical problem with the tempo. The piano is absolutely superb, virtuosic and well-articulated even at that speed, and so is the violin — congratulations!
Recommendation: Yes: here’s another “must”, hard to beat!
Rating: 5.0 (5 / 5 / 5)

Addendum:

If you are not an active pianist or violinist, you might want to follow this music using a pocket score. These typically come in two volumes:

While musicians, of course, prefer a full size score edition, such as Henle’s, also in two volumes:



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