Beethoven Sonata discs voted Classic FM Instrumental Disc of the Month
1 Mar 2007
Woodhouse release WOODCD803/6 Beethoven: The Complete Works for Piano and Violin continues to receive strong critical acclaim.
The four disc set has been voted `Instrumental Disc of the Month` for March by Classic FM Magazine. Further praise has been lavished by Robert Maxham in the prestigious, highly respected US magazine Fanfare.
"Paul Barritt and James Lisney recorded Beethoven’s op. 12 violin sonatas in December 2004; the ops. 23 and 24 sonatas, the Mozart Variations, and the Rondo in June 2005; the op. 30 sonatas on February 2006; and the ops. 47 and 96 sonatas and the German Dances on April 2006. The acoustics in St. Martin’s Church in East Woodhay, Hampshire, don’t seem particularly reverberant, but the engineers have balanced the violin and piano and captured some of the instruments’ brightness, especially in the later sessions (and after the sonatas, op. 12, Lisney played a different Steinway). Barritt plays on a 1695 Stradivari, the tone of which may not possess the tensile strength or steely core of some of the Master’s later instruments; but it serves Barritt in reproducing his subtly varied tonal nuances. He plays these strong-minded works largely without resorting to the tautly stretched sound and unvaryingly spiky accents that many violinists apparently consider the primary colors in Beethoven’s expressive palette. In fact, Barritt might be playing Mozart or Haydn, so genial does he sound in even the stormier passages in these works, at least the early ones. And he displays from the outset—in the first movement of the First Sonata, for example—a varied approach to chords that others might automatically snap aggressively, but which Barritt, by contrast, feels free to break with almost arpeggiated graciousness. This kinder, gentler approach sometimes softens the impact of moments that other violinists play with explosive energy, like the trio of the Fifth Sonata’s Scherzo. But his rollicking good humor in the opening of the Second Sonata and sheer beauty of sound, exquisitely veiled and hauntingly mysterious, in the Sixth Sonata’s Adagio molto espressivo, (as well as his geniality in that Sonata’s finale) compensate immeasurably for whatever expectations of aggressiveness might go unmet. In addition, that Sixth Sonata’s slow movement offers Lisney an opportunity for exceptionally sensitive accompaniment. The Seventh Sonata dances with jaunty accentuations; and the opening of the Eighth shows how many kinds of staccato attacks can fit into a single movement, like college students into a Volkswagen. But as the Eighth Sonata progresses, Barritt and Lisney explore almost disturbingly dark regions; and in the Allegro vivace they emerge in triumphantly blazing glory. Given Barritt’s and Lisney’s geniality, the “Kreutzer” Sonata’s first movement strikes surprising sparks, but the duo pauses to differentiate the thematic material as sensitively and intelligently as a listener should by now have come to expect. In the slow movement’s theme, as elsewhere, Barritt demonstrates that he can produce a viscous, honeyed tone reminiscent of Mischa Elman’s. The Tenth Sonata combines an almost motionless tranquility and joyous, helium-buoyed good spirits. While such monumental sonata readings tend to dwarf the less familiar occasional pieces, the duo plays the Variations, Rondo, and German Dances both winningly and convincingly.
Sunny and warm as Fritz Kreisler, thoughtful as Joseph Szigeti, and, where appropriate, intense as Francescatti, Paul Barritt reveals a fourth dimension in Beethoven’s works. His partnership with James Lisney seems just about ideal—Arthur Grumiaux’s over-dubbed sonata readings with himself at the piano, and Heifetz’s and Heifetz’s Bach Double Concerto, too, demonstrate the importance of exchanging ideas: in chamber music, a volatile partnership’s better than none at all. Barritt and Lisney seem to possess a unanimity of outlook throughout these sonatas that spills over into details as well as into the underlying rhythmic coordination of their playing. (And listen to how subtle crescendos in the Fifth Sonata enliven passages that might otherwise simply flow evenly.) Rhythmic figures or passagework never sound fussy, studied, or overstropped: their exactness simply provides a sort of pleasurable undercurrent that bubbles like champagne to the surface in running passages. As at the opening of the Seventh Sonata, Lisney deploys his subtle sense of rhythm to color even gray passages. Barritt, for his part, doesn’t allow his violin to dictate timbres in awkwardly written passages, but unpretentiously dominates his instrument, creating the ultimate personal signature for himself. Despite playing (by both partners) that strenuously avoids calling attention to itself, the set shines with a spiritual beacon light. I might not have thought of Barritt’s and Lisney’s Beethoven as a stuffer I’d have packed for a sojourn on a desert isle, but I’d be happy to find that my wife had put it in my backpack for me, along with Milstein’s unaccompanied Bach, Heifetz’s Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Grumiaux’s Havannaise, and maybe Ricci’s Ysa˙e sonatas. The ample notes combine scholarship with insightful description, Yet, given Barritt’s and Lisney’s highly personal approach, it would have been enlightening to read their own comments on each of the sonatas. Urgently recommended".
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