Ludwig van Beethoven
Sonata for Piano and Violin No.7 in C minor, op.30/2

Media Review / Comparison


2011-12-30 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-07-15 — New standard layout applied
2014-10-31 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-06-23 — Brushed up for better readability


Outline


Introduction

This is another note on the recordings of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano & violin in my music collection, about the sonata in C minor, op.30/2 — references to the CDs are given at the bottom of the respective section, or in one of the related postings, or 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.7 in C minor op.30/2 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 brio (4/4)
  2. Adagio cantabile (4/4)
  3. Scherzo: Allegro (3/4) — Trio (3/4)
  4. Finale: Allegro — Presto (alla breve, 2/2)

Let me add some general remarks about the tempo in the second movement. Traditionally, this piece was played very slowly. Somehow it has crept into people’s mind that adagio means slow. But “slow” would be lento (rarely used by Beethoven), and adagio means calm. This means that this movement is likely to be played faster than one might expect. Then, Beethoven adds cantabile, i.e., singable. This latter annotation does not imply that only the theme in the first bars must sound like a song: it likely applies to the entire movement.

Now, there is the problem that towards the end of the movement there are lots of short notes (e.g., rapid scales in 64ths, longer passages with 32nds in the piano). This appears to confirm that the movement is to be played very slowly. However, that defeats the cantabile. After all, it is not unusual for Beethoven’s “slow” movements to have fast(er), if not even dramatic passages. Overall, I think that sticking to a slow tempo is the worst possible choice in this movement. Unless on a varies the tempo (as Grumiaux / Haskil do), one should rather try to fit the rapid passages into the interpretation. It is not impossible, after all! One should also keep in mind that on the fortepiano of Beethoven’s time, fast passages were easier to play and yet remained more transparent than on a modern grand piano.

The (measured) metronome numbers are approximate values only (in the second movement the numbers shown are the average over the entire movement).


Comments on the Interpretations

Yehudi Menuhin, Wilhelm Kempff (1970)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas vol.2, Menuhin, Kempff, CD cover

Beethoven, The Complete Violin Sonatas, Vol.II: Sonatas opp.30, 47, 96

Yehudi MenuhinWilhelm Kempff

DG 459 436-2 (stereo, 2 CD); ℗ 1970

Beethoven: Violin sonatas vol. II, Menuhin, Kempff, CD, UPC-A barcode
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Yehudi Menuhin and Wilhelm Kempff (1970) — for general comments see op.30/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 8’29”; 1/4 = 120
    Somewhat “bookish”, often a bit stiff, could have more drama, brio, emotions.
  2. 10’35”; 1/4 = 43
    Even though not quite as slow as with Oistrakh, overall, this definitely is still lento, not adagio. Already the theme is very slow — why does Kempff further slow down the 16ths in bar #7 to end the phrase? Note that Menuhin does not imitate this when playing the same melody, in bar #15. Naturally, at this tempo, the “melodic backbone” in bars #33ff. is extremely (i.e., too) slow. The emotional content is not always clear, especially in the more dramatic passages in the last part of the movement.
  3. 3’41”; 1/4 = 170 — 165 (Trio)
    OK, though the Trio is too moderate
  4. 6’02”; 1/2 = 110 — 150 (Presto)
    The tempo is at the lower limit — that is just barely an allegro, maybe more of an allegretto.
Recommendation:No
Rating:2.2 (2 / 2 / 3 / 2)

David Oistrakh, Lev Oborin (1962)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Oistrakh, Oborin, CD cover

Beethoven: 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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David Oistrakh and Lev Oborin (1962) — for general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 8’00”; 1/4 = 136
    Somewhat stiff, not free.
  2. 11’18”; 1/4 = 40
    Lento rather than adagio — very slow already in the theme (to sing this one would need an extremely long breath!). It looks like they adjusted the tempo such that the smallest note values (64ths!) remain “nicely playable”. Still, the rapid passages appear “unmotivated”. the interpretation is static, emotional content hardly recognizable.
  3. 3’23” (no repetition in the da capo); 1/4 = 186 — 180 (Trio)
    The Trio is a bit stiff, could have more humor / joke. The return to the faster tempo after the Trio is somewhat non-ideal.
  4. 5’22”; 1/2 = 124 — 150 (Presto)
    Loses tension in the first part; too stiff in the dolce section. The sound balance isn’t very good again.
Recommendation:No
Rating:2.5 (3 / 2 / 3 / 2)

Arthur Grumiaux, Clara Haskil (1956)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Grumiaux, Haskil, CD cover

Beethoven: 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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Arthur Grumiaux and Clara Haskil (1956) — for general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 7’37”; 1/4 = 144
    Not transparent enough, probably due to the combination of bad acoustics (excess reverberation) and bad recording technique.
  2. 9’23”; 1/4 = 49
    If for once we ignore Grumiaux’ excessive, omnipresent vibrato, this is certainly one of his best movements in this series so far. Also the sound balance is better here. Interesting: even though the average metronome number for this movement is 1/4 = 49, the initial theme is played at 1/4 = 45. This is about the tempo used by Menuhin / Kempff or Perlman / Ashkenazy. Tempo issues are circumvented by varying the tempo for each of the segments. The interpretation also appears more differentiated in dynamics and emotional content, compared to Menuhin / Kempff or Oistrakh / Oborin. It’s not a bad interpretation at all!
  3. 3’12” (no repetition in the da capo); 1/4 = 195
    The end of the Scherzo is rushed, which destroys the effect / joke; this also applies to the beginning of the da capo. They appear to lose tempo (lack of control?) and sometimes “need to catch up again” — too fast, overall?
  4. 5’00”; 1/2 = 144 — 160 (Presto)
    OK for the emotional content; the performance has drive — but unfortunately is lacking transparency; the end of the Presto is somewhat rushed.
Recommendation:Just for slow movement, maybe
Rating:3.2 (3 / 4 / 3 / 3)

Itzhak Perlman, Vladimir Ashkenazy (1974)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Perlman, Ashkenazy, CD cover

Beethoven: 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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Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy (1974) — for general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 8’05”; 1/4 = 136
    Dramatic, eruptive, emotional.
  2. 10’34”; 1/4 = 43
    The tempo is at the absolute lower limit. The “backbone melody” in bars #33ff. is still unbearably slow, but at least in terms of emotional content this feels better than Menuhin / Kempff or Oistrakh / Oborin, long phrases are more recognizable here.
  3. 3’23”; 1/4 = 186
    Good; the tempo is held through the entire movement.
  4. 5’39”; 1/2 = 120 — 160 (Presto)
    Good, dramatic, captures the grim mood in the main theme well, but also shows the serene moments. Very determined, up to the end. OK, Perlman’s vibrato is often a bit nervous…
Recommendation:OK
Rating:3.8 (4 / 3 / 4 / 4)

Renaud Capuçon, Frank Braley (2009)

VlSon_Capuçon_Braley

Beethoven: 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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Renaud Capuçon and Frank Braley (2009) — for general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 7’21”; 1/4 = 148
    Dynamically and rhythmically more balanced / even-tempered (also in the agogics) than Kremer / Argerich’s interpretation, but also less dramatic. Transparent, clear.
  2. 8’34”; 1/4 = 52
    The tempo is on the slow side, but the interpretation otherwise is mostly OK. Some dislikes: a vibrato which is a bit too conspicuous (and used on notes that don’t need emphasis), and a certain tendency for “belly notes”. Also, I find very odd that the triplets in bars 85/86 and 93/94 are too fast: this can’t be a cutting error, but must have been a conscious decision — but one that makes it sound as if the artists didn’t understand how to play triplets!
  3. 3’23” (no repetition in the da capo); 1/4 = 186
    Why is Braley holding back the last chord in the Trio? This “breaks” the transition to the da capo part!
  4. 5’07”; 1/2 = 136 — 164 (Presto)
    A good performance. The dolce is taken a tad slower. In the piano, the articulation in the left hand is sometimes a bit sluggish (e.g., the double pairs of eighths at the beginning of the main theme).
Recommendation:OK
Rating:3.8 (4 / 3 / 4 / 4)

Gidon Kremer, Martha Argerich (1994)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas vol.3, Kremer, Argerich, CD cover

Beethoven: Violin Sonatas Nos. 6 – 8 (op. 30)

Gidon KremerMartha Argerich

DG 445 652-2 (stereo); ℗ / © 1994

VlSon_Kremer_Argerich_6_7_8
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Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich (1994) — for general comments see op.30/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 7’36”; 1/4 = 146
    Dramatic, also in the agogics; the recording strikes by its clarity and alertness — right from the very first bars, where Martha Argerich is able to establish tension, presence and drama instantly. She plays p, but A tempo (most of the interpretations above start with a slightly, if not even distinctly slower tempo), alert and clear.
  2. 7’41”; 1/4 = 59
    Martha Argerich puts a lot of life—dynamics, agogics, small-scale phrasing—even just into the first 8 bars of the theme! Substantially faster than the interpretations above, the melody remains cantabile throughout the movement. Emotionally, dramatically, and from the tempo, this interpretation feels “right”. However, this certainly isn’t an interpretation which allows the listener just to stay leaned back and to lose oneself in the music!
  3. 3’36” (no repetition in the da capo); 1/4 = 170 — 174 (Trio)
    In this interpretation, the Scherzo is rather rough: a peasant’s dance — though the tempo remains controlled; in contrast, the Trio starts rather soft.
  4. 5’06”; 1/2 = 144 — 160 (Presto)
    Far more aggressive, alert, with more “bite” than Capuçon / Braley, lots of small-scale phrasing & articulation, lively agogics, they never lose tension, up to the emotional turmoil of the final Presto.
Recommendation:Yes
Rating:4.8 (5 / 5 / 4 / 5)

Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov (2008)

Beethoven: Violin sonatas, Faust, Melnikov, CD cover

Beethoven: 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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Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov (2008) — for general comments see op.12/1

Comments on the Performance

  1. 7’06”; 1/4 = 152
    Fast, very dramatic — but without “charging”: Faust / Melnikov let the music speak for itself. From the other interpretations I didn’t realize the close relationship with the “Presto agitato” from the piano sonata in C♯ minor, op.27/2 (known as “Moonlight sonata”), composed at about the same time (1801) as op.30/2 (1801/02).
  2. 7’29”; 1/4 = 61
    Again faster than Kremer / Argerich — yet effortless, letting the music express itself. The interpretation has more focus on the big phrases, but of course without losing any detail in articulation. It is amazing how Alexander Melnikov can play those fairly dramatic and expressive, rapid 32nd passages in the second half (especially those in the last bars) such that they remain unobtrusive, transparent, and one has no problems following Isabelle Faust’s p / pp pizzicato sequences!
  3. 3’15”; 1/4 = 190
    An almost perfect interpretation, once more! The tempo is fast, but controlled, the articulation light, accurate, the syncopated sforzato jokes rapid and precise — excellent! On top of that (to be expected here!), they add extra “features” in the repetitions, such as using arpeggi in lieu of the double chords in the Scherzo, or very pronounced rubati in the Trio.
  4. 4’52”; 1/2 = 150 — 180 (Presto)
    Compared to Kremer / Argerich, this has more flow / continuity — though without losing focus on articulation & detail; they play in long(er) phrases and use larger scale agogics. The dolce is done via articulation rather than by altering the tempo. The Presto is simply stunning, very virtuoso — masterful!
Recommendation: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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