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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Violin Sonatas Nos 1, 6 & 8

Viktoria Mullova (violin), Alasdair Beatson (fortepiano)
Download only Available Friday 3 May 2024This album is not yet available for download
Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: July 2023
Priory Lodge, Dixton Road, Monmouthshire, Wales
Produced by Matthew Barley
Engineered by Mike Hatch
Release date: 3 May 2024
Total duration: 57 minutes 20 seconds

Cover artwork: Photo © Aga Tomaszek.

Three of Beethoven's endlessly inventive violin sonatas—No 1, dedicated to Salieri, and Nos 6 & 8 from the Opus 30 set dedicated to Tsar Alexander I—in performances fully alive to every nuance.

In preparing this recording, these three sonatas have proven particularly good company—as a set they are optimistic, ebullient and inexhaustibly inventive. Just as in previous recordings, we use a copy of an 1805 Walter (a Viennese fortepiano) by Paul McNulty; together with violin strung with gut, these instruments are true colleagues, informing and inspiring, coaxing us towards Beethoven’s voice and expression. For me, there is revelation in the textural richness of the fortepiano in this music, with Beethoven balancing and animating the distinct colours of different registers of the instrument like a master mixologist! Violin and fortepiano articulate, converse, and sing together with natural ease.

Beethoven left no metronome indications for his violin sonatas, and during rehearsals our instincts led us to comparatively fast and buoyant tempos. Our preferences do agree with metronome suggestions from Beethoven’s contemporaries (including Czerny and Moscheles), and counteract the trend of performance traditions during the later 19th and 20th centuries, when considerably slower tempos became the norm.

So we enjoy an abundance of vigour and elan in the outer movements of the D major sonata, Op 12 No 1, Beethoven embarking on his first sonata for the idiom with characteristic confidence and brilliance. Meanwhile, in its exquisite central movement Andante con moto, a set of variations provides repose, intimacy and increasing fantasy.

The A major sonata, Op 30 No 1, is a subtle and rare work. If less demonstrative than other sonatas, it is quietly exploratory and innovative, and affectionately lyrical. Its mercurial first movement contrasts a rather quizzical and fleeting motif, soaring melodic lines, and sudden bursts of energy. Then the Adagio molto espressivo invites us deep into Beethoven’s spiritual world, profound and prayer-like. By way of a finale, an endearingly cheerful, songful theme gives way to a set of variations full of delight, humour and surprise. Twice in its final pages the music seems to get completely lost, improbably so—radical bars, staring fearlessly forward perhaps a hundred years—before turning on its heels as if nothing had happened.

With the hushed, whirling scales at the outset of the G major sonata, Op 31 No 3, a joyful abandon is unleashed. The movement’s initial good spirits belie the dramatic turns ahead, adventuring through distant and stormy keys, its progress so rapid as to seem abrupt. Following it, we find a place of enchantment: part dance and part song, suspended within an almost paradoxical tempo indication—Tempo di Minuetto ma molto moderato e grazioso. The sonata ends with a rustic and infectiously high-spirited Allegro vivace, Beethoven unbuttoned and uproarious.

Alasdair Beatson © 2024

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