Ludwig van Beethoven: The Sonatas for Piano and Violin

Media Review / Comparison Summary

2012-02-19 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2012-03-12 — Various updates
2014-05-24 — References to Rubinstein Album Collection (w/Szeryng), more artist links
2014-10-30 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-06-23 — Brushed up for better readability



In a series of blog entries, posted over the past 4 months, I have compared recordings of the Sonatas for Piano and Violin by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827). All these are CDs in my music collection. I have been tackling one sonata per blog posting:

Purpose of this Posting

In this note, I would like to summarize the results of all of the above postings. This time, I’m focusing on the artists rather than on individual compositions. At the bottom of this posting you find a table that collects all of my ratings. Please keep in mind that these are just my personal ratings.

On top of that, the criteria in comparing performances of music that has been composed 200 years ago can’t be entirely objective. One should keep in mind that the composer’s notation only provides a rough skeleton defining how the music was intended to sound.

Most artists don’t (or can’t) resort to period instruments. However, even if we were truly able to reproduce the original sound (which we can only approximate now), we still can’t reproduce the human perception at the time of the composition, as our ears & brain are heavily biased by the music performed today!

For details on the actual CDs / recordings please select the appropriate blog postings from the list above; full CD details are typically given on the first sonata (sorted as shown above) for a given CD or CD set. The recordings are sorted by the last name of the artists (violinists first).

The Artists and their Recordings

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

Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin

  • 1931 – 1941: Naxos 8.110954 (mono); Beethoven, Violin Sonatas (opp. 12/3, 24, 47), Historical Recordings 1931 – 1941
  • Average rating (10 tracks): 3.4
Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Capuçon, Braley, CD cover

Renaud Capuçon and Frank Braley

  • 2009: Virgin Classics LV 7873 (stereo, 3 CD); Beethoven, Complete Sonatas for Violin & Piano (opp. 12, 23, 24, 30, 47, 96)
  • Average Rating (47 tracks): 4.0
Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Faust, Melnikov, CD cover

Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov

  • 2006 / 2008: Harmonia mundi HMC 902025.27 (stereo, 3 CD + 1 CD/DVD); Beethoven, Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano (opp. 12, 23, 24, 30, 47, 96)
  • Average rating (33 tracks): 5.0
Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Grumiaux, Haskil, CD cover

Arthur Grumiaux and Clara Haskil

  • 1956 / 1957: Brilliant Classics 93329 (mono, 3 CD); Beethoven, Violin Sonatas Complete (opp. 12, 23, 24, 30, 47, 96)
  • Average rating (33 tracks): 2.8

Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich

  • 1985: DG 415 138-2 (stereo); Beethoven, Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 – 3 (op.12)
  • 1987: DG 419 787-2 (stereo); Beethoven, Violin Sonatas Nos. 4 & 5 (opp. 23, 24)
  • 1994: DG 445 652-2 (stereo), Beethoven, Violin Sonatas Nos. 6 – 8 (op.30)
  • 1995: DG 447 054-2 (stereo); Beethoven, Violin Sonatas Nos. 9 & 10 (opp.47, 96)
  • Average rating (33 tracks): 4.5

Yehudi Menuhin and Wilhelm Kempff

  • 1970: DGG 459 433-2 (stereo, 2 CD); Beethoven, The Complete Violin Sonatas, Vol.I: Sonatas opp.12, 23, 24; Rondo in G, WoO 41; 12 Variations on “Se vuol ballare” from “Le nozze di Figaro”, WoO 40
  • 1970: DGG 459 436-2 (stereo, 2 CD); Beethoven, The Complete Violin Sonatas, Vol.II: Sonatas opp.30, 47, 96
  • Average rating (33 tracks): 1.9

Beethoven: Violin sonatas 3 & 9, Mullova, Bezuidenhout, CD cover

Viktoria Mullova and Kristian Bezuidenhout

  • 2009: ONYX 4050 (stereo); Beethoven, Violin Sonata Nr.3 op.12/3, Violin Sonata Nr.9 op.47 “Kreutzer”
  • Average rating (6 tracks): 5.0
Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Oistrakh, Oborin, CD cover

David Oistrakh and Lev Oborin

  • 1962: Philips 468 406-2 (stereo, 4 CD); Beethoven, The Sonatas for Piano and Violin (opp. 12, 23, 24, 30, 47, 96)
  • Average rating (33 tracks): 2.5
Beethoven / Franck: Violin sonatas, Perlman, Argerich, CD, cover

Itzhak Perlman and Martha Argerich

  • 1998: EMI Classics 7243 5 56815 2 2; Beethoven, Sonatas for Violin & Piano op.47 — Franck, Violin Sonata in A major (CD, recorded live)
  • Average rating (3 tracks): 3.7
Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Perlman, Ashkenazy, CD cover

Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy

  • 1973 – 1975: Decca 421 453-2 (stereo, 4 CD); Beethoven, The Violin Sonatas (opp. 12, 23, 24, 30, 47, 96)
  • Average rating (33 tracks): 3.2

Henryk Szeryng and Arthur Rubinstein

  • 1958 / 1961: RCA Victor / BMG 09026 63040-2 (stereo); Beethoven, Violin Sonatas opp.24, 30/3, 47
  • 1958: RCA Victor / BMG (stereo); Beethoven, Violin Sonatas opp.24, 47
  • 1961: RCA Victor / BMG (stereo); Beethoven, Violin Sonata op.30/3 — Brahms: Violin Sonata op.78
  • Average rating (10 tracks): 2.3

Result Summary

In the table below I’m summarizing the results of my iTunes ratings (*, **, …, *****). Keep in mind that these ratings are subjective, though I have tried my best to avoid underrating specific recordings, e.g.,

  • by listening to slower recordings first (as after a fast recording, a slow interpretation may often sound “clumsy”)
  • later in the comparison, I sometimes would also listen to those recordings first which I anticipate to be worse than others — not in order to confirm a prejudice, but because after a good one, a bad recording may sound even worse;
  • by avoiding directly confronting “classic” recordings with newer, “historically informed” performances, or recordings with period instruments;

Note also that not all of the table below can be viewed as direct comparison, as for some artists I only had 1 – 3 sonatas to compare, and there may not be any overlap between recordings of such artists.

Beethoven, violin sonatas, rating overview table

The fact that some artists only received top five-star ratings is partly due to the limitations in the iTunes rating options, with obvious limitations in the differentiation.

Ratings, Explained

In general, I used the rating levels as follows:

  • ***** = top rating, my favorite recording(s)
  • **** = excellent recording
  • *** = good recording, often a typical “classic” recording
  • ** = recordings with features / attributes that I dislike, or with “moderate deficiencies”
  • * = recordings where I have major objections, or recordings that are obviously against the composer’s (perceived) intent, etc.

Despite the lack of rating differentiation, the above summary should (at least for artists represented by a complete collection of all sonatas) be relatively safe against occasional mis-ratings due to confrontation with the “wrong” contenders, due to variations in my own “receptivity” etc., thanks to the sheer number of the ratings which should average out occasional, minor errors. That said, there is of course no guarantee that anyone will agree with the above results…

Addendum: Scores

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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