Ludwig van Beethoven
Sonata for Piano and Violin No.5 in F major, op.24, “Spring Sonata”

Media Review / Comparison


2011-12-22 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-07-05 — New standard layout applied
2014-05-10 — Added reference to CD from Rubinstein Album Collection
2014-10-31 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-06-23 — Brushed up for better readability

Introduction

This is another note on the recordings of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano & violin in my music collection, about the sonata in F major, op.24, “Spring Sonata”. See also 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.5 in F major op.24, “Spring Sonata” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827). References to the recordings are given in each of the sections below. Here’s a short list of the recordings in this comparison, in alphabetic order:

The Movements

The movements in this sonata are

  1. Allegro (4/4)
  2. Adagio molto espressivo (3/4)
  3. Scherzo: Allegro molto (3/4) — Trio (3/4)
  4. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo (alla breve, 2/2)

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 see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 10’31”; 1/4 = 124 – 144
    A clumsy interpretation. The articulation is sometimes inaccurate, and I found some tempo discontinuities.
  2. 6’24”; 1/4 = 37
    This lacks poetry, does not keep tension and intensity. Lots of sustain pedal.
  3. 1’31”; 3/4 = 67 / 77 (Trio)
    To me, this lacks wittiness!
  4. 7’27”; 1/2 = 68
    Too slow, even clumsy (where is the alla breve?)
Recommendation: No
Rating: 1.2 (1 / 2 / 1 / 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. 10’14”; 1/4 = 124 – 144
    The violin is so dominant in the sound that it often covers the piano.
  2. 5’29”; 1/4 = 42
    The slightly faster tempo is easier on the melody. Clara Haskil uses lots of pedal, the piano isn’t always clear. The violin is way too strong, often covering the piano.
  3. 1’06”; 3/4 = 88 / 94 (Trio)
    Not the best coordination in the Scherzo, the Trio is better (thanks to Grumiaux’ sound!)
  4. 6’11”; 1/2 = 86
    This movement offers at least some opportunities for the piano to “show off” / expose itself. Bjut this only lasts until the violin starts its part: Grumiaux is pretty cruel when he dominates the sound by playing accompanying sections ff and legatissimo — not a chance for the piano in these segments!
Recommendation: No
Rating: 2.2 (2 / 2 / 3 / 2)

Henryk Szeryng, Arthur Rubinstein (1958)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas 5, 8, 9, Szeryng, Rubinstein, CD coverBeethoven: Violin Sonatas Nos. 5, 8, 9 (opp.24, 30/3, 47)

Henryk SzeryngArthur Rubinstein (1958)

RCA Victor / BMG 09026 63040-2 (stereo); ℗ / © 2003
Beethoven: Violin sonatas 5, 8, 9, Szeryng, Rubinstein, UPC-A barcode
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Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), cover, CD # 70Arthur Rubinstein — The Complete Album Collection
CD #70: Beethoven: Kreutzer & Spring Sonatas
Arthur Rubinstein, Henryk Szeryng

SONY Classical 88691936912 (142 CDs / 2 DVDs, mono / stereo); ℗ / © 2011
Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), Top cover Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), UPC-A barcode
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spacerHenryk Szeryng and Arthur Rubinstein (1958): 30, 40 years ago I used to like Szeryng’s recordings. Now, I have problems understanding why… my taste must have changed!

Comments on the Performance

  1. 7’13” (exposition not repeated); 1/4 = 124 – 144
    The articulation often sounds a bit mechanic (violin). The second theme is suddenly faster; this by itself is legitimate — but that tempo change is not introduced properly and sounds like a cut / recording error. Also, there are a couple of intonation issues in the violin.
  2. 5’26”; 1/4 = 44
    The violin is sometimes too loud, the vibrato too nervous; perhaps too fast; the piano often drops the tension (at a small scale, i.e., within the phrases); sometimes a bit superficial.
  3. 1’09”; 3/4 = 88 / 93 (Trio)
    Violin too broad, rushing sometimes, occasionally marginal intonation
  4. 6’27”; 1/2 = 88 (+/-)
    Pretty coarse in both instruments, the articulation is not careful, the vibrato too strong and nervous, excessive tempo variations / instabilities.
Recommendation: No
Rating: 2.2 (3 / 2 / 2 / 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. 10’13”; 1/4 = 128 – 136
    As with the preceding sonatas, this recording has severe limitations in the sound. But otherwise it is OK. The dynamic range appears rather limited (as if they didn’t dare playing ff) — but this could also be a recording issue.
  2. 6’05”; 1/4 = 37 (+/-)
    The tempo is at the lower limit for the melody (but other interpretations have the same problem). Oborin uses less pedal, and he is more transparent than others. The violin is singing, though with a fair amount of vibrato. I notice a loss of tension towards the end.
  3. 1’20”; 3/4 = 78 / 89 (Trio)
    Somewhat stiff, especially in the piano.
  4. 7’08”; 1/2 = 72
    Pretty slow, the piano is heavy, “wooden”, stiff — and it’s not witty at all.
Recommendation: No
Rating: 2.2 (2 / 3 / 2 / 2)

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. 9’55”; 1/4 = 128 – 150
    Good, fulfills “common expectations”, no more.
  2. 6’28”; 1/4 = 37
    Somewhat overblown for my taste, with lots of pedal in the piano. The interpretation is creating a somewhat monotonous sound carpet. It lacks tension in some parts.
  3. 1’14”; 3/4 = 87 / 91 (Trio)
    OK, good tempo!
  4. 6’50”; 1/2 = 76
    Another sumptuous movement by Perlman: lots of legato, broad. The piano is often fairly massive, but the tempo is about OK (at the lower limit). I don’t like some of the tempo variations / alterations, though.
Recommendation: No
Rating: 3.2 (3 / 3 / 4 / 3)

Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin (1933)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas 3 & 5, Busch, Serkin, CD coverBeethoven: 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. For additional remarks see op.12/3.

Comments on the Performance

  1. 6’46” (exposition not repeated); 1/4 = 140 – 156
    Good, dramatic, and faster than all others, but with a clear concept. Overall, this is an excellent, if not amazing recording, given its age of almost 80 years!
  2. 6’08”; 1/4 = 37
    Uses less pedal than Ashkenazy or Kempff. The middle part is slightly faster. This makes it easier not to drop the tension.
  3. 1’12”; 3/4 = 87 / 95 (Trio)
    OK
  4. 6’27”; 1/2 = 82
    Excellent coordination between the artists. An amazing recording, given its age!
Recommendation: Why not, as second recording?
Rating: 3.5 (4 / 3 / 3 / 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. 9’53”; 1/4 = 124 – 150
    Transparent, dramatic, expressive — a good interpretation! For my feeling, the repeated chords in the piano (second theme) could be slightly more regular, controlled.
  2. 5’53”; 1/4 = 38
    The tempo is better than with Kremer / Argerich. A good performance, keeping the tension throughout the movement!
  3. 1’09” (last repetition omitted); 3/4 = 85 / 93 (Trio)
    Good, witty!
  4. 6’39”; 1/2 = 78
    A fairly good interpretation; the piano is more transparent than with Argerich. The coordination / tuning between the artists could be better. For example, at the beginning of the movement, Braley plays pairs of eighths inégales, almost like a baroque acciaccatura. I would accept that (even if it is historically incorrect) if the violinist would do the same — but he doesn’t!
Recommendation: Yes, though there are better alternatives.
Rating: 4.0 (4 / 4 / 4 / 4)

Gidon Kremer, Martha Argerich (1987)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas vol.2, Kremer, Argerich, CD coverBeethoven: Violin Sonatas Nos. 4 & 5 (opp. 23, 24)

Gidon Kremer, Martha Argerich

DG 419 787-2 (stereo); ℗ / © 1987
Beethoven: Violin sonatas vol.2, Kremer, Argerich, UPC-A barcode
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spacerGidon Kremer and Martha Argerich (1987) — for CD information and general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 9’43”; 1/4 = 120 – 146
    An excellent, dramatic and expressive interpretation. Similar to Szeryng / Rubinstein, they also take the second theme somewhat faster. However, here, that tempo change is not abrupt, but introduced properly. Martha Argerich uses the descending piano scale to accelerate, and to prepare for the second theme. It all feels “natural”, the tempo change is almost unnoticeable. Another little detail: this is the only interpretation where I noticed the piano acciaccatura at the beginning of the coda — the violin holds back for a split second!
  2. 6’05”; 1/4 = 37
    The tempo is at the lower limit, but the interpretation features excellent phrasing & agogics.
  3. 1’21”; 3/4 = 78 / 89 (Trio)
    Kremer’s “airy” sound doesn’t really help here!
  4. 6’34”; 1/2 = 76
    Lively, dramatic, with long phrases, supported by agogics. The transparency is OK, could still be better, though.
Recommendation: Yes
Rating: 4.2 (5 / 4 / 4 / 4)

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. 9’50”; 1/4 = 124 – 150
    Clearly, this is the interpretation with the most life and detail: careful articulation, small-scale agogics, very nice the little, split-second hesitations for emphasizing notes, accents.
  2. 5’47”; 1/4 = 40
    A perfect match between the two artists in agogics, rhythm, and phrasing. A clear advantage of playing with very little vibrato: sound balance and transparency are far easier to maintain, the violin has no need to “overcharge the sound”.
  3. 1’10”; 3/4 = 92 / 98 (Trio)
    Perfect! Fast, witty, joyful, yet accurate / precise — and playing out some serious jokes in the repetition of the Scherzo. I’m sure at Beethoven’s time people have been smiling, if not laughing when hearing that movement! Modern ears are too much “worn out” to understand such jokes. Thank you so much, Isabelle and Sasha, for restoring this opportunity for true fun and enjoyment; this is absolutely admirable!
  4. 6’20”; 1/2 = 82
    Once more — simply excellent! More than any of the other artists, these two have carefully considered which voice is the principal melody, and which part is “just” accompaniment (and for sure, the violin often is just accompaniment, Mr. Grumiaux!!!). And in those latter sections, it is amazing how well the violin can be heard playing p or pp (without vibrato, of course), even though the piano plays forte, and the violin is using the G-string only…
Recommendation: YES, YES, YES!
Rating: 5.0 (5 / 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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