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Violin Sonatas in context

Vol 1
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN

Sonata for piano and violin in G major Op. 96
Rondeau in G major WoO 41
Twelve Variations in F major after 'Se vuol ballare' from 'Le nozze di Figaro'

Erzherzog RUDOLPH
Variations in F major for violin and piano (1810)

Vol 2

Sonata in A major Op.47. "Kreutzer"
6 Deutsche Tänze WoO 42
Sonata in E flat major

Peter Sheppard Skærved violin
Aaron Shorr piano

METIER MSV CD2003 [63 mins] & 2004 [68 mins]

Starting at the end, Metier's Beethoven Explored series begins with an ideal performance of Beethoven's last sonata Op. 96. That is an endearing and unique work which I particularly love and cherish - and in earlier years had often played it at home with violinist friends. Everything here makes me smile with pleasure at its 'rightness' - balance, articulation and phrasing, and the tone quality of both intruments (Peter Sheppard Skærved plays the RAM's 'Habaneck' Strad and Aaron Shorr the Steinway D at St John's Smith Square, perfectly set up for this repertoire). The cover portrait of Beethoven is perhaps a little severe for this particular sonata and the genial music accompanying it.

The series aims to present the Beethoven violin sonatas in their social and musical context. Here we have early duo pieces by Beethoven and an ambitious, interesting set of virtuosic variations by the sonata's dedicatee, Archduke Rudolf, on his little minuet which 'progresses through contrapuntal couplets, canons and inversions beore breaking into romantic rhapsodising'. Peter Sheppard Skærved, who writes the compendious notes, wonders if Beethoven himself might have written the adagio variation towards the end.

I am tempted to say this is the best recording of Op. 96 I know, though recognising that unless you are a diligent comparative reviewer, the present (when it is good) always tends to dominate the past. No worry or competition though; this series is unique in its purpose and as such is to be unreservedly welcomed. Full informative background notes by the violinist and everything else in the safe hands of David Lefeber.

Volume 2 does not take a chronological approach either, but hurls you straight into a rugged, masterful performance of the Kreutzer sonata (1803), as Beethovenian as you could wish, as is the Osvald Batt image (R).

Again, balance between Peter Sheppard Skærved and Aaron Shorr is ideally realised and caught by the microphones and I am prepared to assert that if you've got this version, you won't need any other. I envisage a group of friends (now, or exactly 200 years ago) listening to this commanding and sensitive account of their (probably) favourite violin sonata, then breaking for talk and refreshment. Some more music? One mountain peak is enough for one day so, to bring us (them) down to earth, a few little German dances, then a hearing of something by a friend to end the evening.

Joseph Mayseder's Eb sonata picked up on the freedoms and virtuosity of the Kreutzer, the two instrurnents vying with runs, roulades and cadenzas, the composer's own exceptional violinistic skills reflected in his bravura writing in remote, uncomfortable keys. You'll love it - but if it were programmed in a violin/piano recital it might halve the box office takings!

The recording of the Mayseder & Beethoven sonatas at St John's Smith Square, January 2000, is immediate and brings the duo into your room, and the extensive essay (presumably by PSS again, though unattributed) is fascinatingly wide ranging.

Let's hope Metier's Beethoven Explored series has all the success it deserves. I can't wait to hear what they have up their sleeves to go with the Op 12 & Op 30 sonatas.*

Metier website: www.metierrecords.co.uk

* BEETHOVEN EXPLORED Volumes 3 & 4 are now rather belatedly released (Divine Art March 2008) and are well up to the standard of the first two.

Beethoven Explored Vol 3 (recorded in 2000) has the three Op 30 sonatas, which are perhaps my favourites as a group; for the influential contemporary, a virtuoso set of unaccompanied violin variations by Franz Clement, and an interesting new (2007) discussion by Peter Sheppard Skærved of the manuscripts .

Vol 4 has No. 4 in A minor and the Spring Sonata, Op. 24, and includes the C minor sonata of Ries.** This is a set to acquire as a whole.

Peter Grahame Woolf

** Ferdinand Ries is well served in the CD catalogue. See his piano concertos and string quartets (Musical Pointers) and a comprehensive discography.