Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonatas: No. 1 in D; No. 2 in A; No. 3 in Eb.
Violin Sonata in Bb,
op. 9/2, “Schottische”
Peter Sheppard Skærved (vn); Aaron Shorr (pn)
MÉTIER 2007 (70:10)
Métier’s booklet describes the fifth volume of violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved and pianist Aaron Shorr’s series,
“reappraising the Violin/Piano Sonatas in their musical and cultural context.” Presumably the voluminous detailed program notes cover the cultural context (Skærved even itemizes furnishings of Ralph Holmes’s rooms when he—Skærved—first heard the 1734 Habaneck Stradivari upon which Holmes played and upon which Skærved has recorded this program). Following a recent custom, the program lists only Beethoven’s opus numbers, not the sonatas’ chronological numbering within the set (this runs counter to the also recent practice of assigning composers’ works numbers the composers themselves eschewed: Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2, Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2, and—
—Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (when will we see Beethoven’s “Violin Concerto No. 2?”). Might this practice affect a “musicologically correct” parallel with the frequent “politically correct” shifting of descriptions for social phenomena?
If any of this seems academic or even pedantic, the performances themselves should allay any fears that they’ve been marred by mannerism. That’s true in the First Sonata, with its first movement delivered crisply and with gusto, the variations remaining cheerful almost throughout, and the Rondo sunny. These sonatas could be played as though they belonged to a later period in the composer’s output; but although they may give hints of things to come, Skærved (and Shorr, too, who seems to share the violinist’s view of these works’ historical place) keeps them from foreshadowing too explicitly—and anachronistically—the course of Beethoven’s developments over the next few years. Yet he hardly refrains from focusing on detail or individual nuance—as in the Second Sonata’s first movement, which nevertheless trips along lightly, its progress never impeded by cluttering detail. (As in the opening movement of the Second Sonata, Skærved doesn’t intrude his accompanimental figures into Shorr’s musical argument.) The second movement, marked
Andante più tosto allegretto
, never assaults the listener in Skærved’s reading with pounding sforzandos, although those who cherish performances like those of Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien may miss them. In the Finale, violinist and pianist brighten passages with streaks of quicksilver. In the Third Sonata, that brilliance returns, and the strenuous accentuation at cadential points hardly dispels it, although the duo does allow darker clouds to roll in over the movement’s middle section. Skærved’s tone thickens in the second movement, against a flickering accompaniment by Shorr; but despite his tonal weight, passages off the beat retain a cocky liveliness. Skærved and Shorr exchange ideas exuberantly and light-heartedly in the Finale.
The duo adds to Beethoven’s first three sonatas a work by his fellow string-quartet player and colleague in the electoral court orchestra in Bonn, Andreas Romberg, which the notes identify as based upon Scottish tunes in its second and third movements (
There’s cauld kail in Aberdeen
Down the burn, and thro’ the mead
). But the first strain of a familiar Celtic tune (
Planxty Fanny Power
, composed by Turlough O’Carolan, the blind Irish harper sometimes said to have played duets with Antonio Vivaldi) appears repeatedly in the first movement, although there’s no reference to it in the movement title—the titles of the later movements mention the Scottish songs—and isn’t mentioned in Métier’s notes. Romberg imports the tune, but doesn’t develop it or embellish it. Occasionally in the movement, a surprising progression of chords wakes the listener from what should be a pleasant reverie. The Scottish tunes assume greater prominence in the second and third movements, perhaps justifying their inclusion in the titles. On the whole, Romberg’s work seems ingratiating, suitable for the drawing room yet with sufficient musical interest to hold its own in the company of Beethoven’s first three sonatas, to which it bears stylistic affinities that many will perceive as unmistakable.
The release’s clear and clean recorded sound (miked at a respectful distance) and evincing a cheerful musical outlook that should make these works (Romberg’s and Beethoven’s alike) appeal especially to those who favor a sunny and transparent approach to Beethoven’s early works. Strongly recommended to these listeners but to others as well, the performances themselves should communicate more vividly than do the detailed notes.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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