A muscular yet light-on-its-feet performance from an expert duo
The musical sleight of hand used by these expert players to focus the very different character of each sonata is in itself cause for wonder. Though quite different as musical personalities – Faust, subtle and quietly formal; Melnikov, a master of the meaningful pause – the combination of the two fires a laser between the staves. Fleetness and elegance are very much to the fore in the Op 12 set, beauty of tone, too, especially in the First Sonata.
The Spring Sonata is lyrical and playful, the opening as easy-going as anyone could wish, the Adagio like a song without words, Faust’s tone warming but relatively restrained, Melnikov a discreetlyRead more supportive partner. The more dramatic sonatas are muscular yet very light on their feet. The A minor, Op 23, is Sturm und Drang with a vengeance, and both players make a point of (metaphorically) pursing their lips: in fact, you sometimes feel that what isn’t being expressed outweighs what is. Of the three Op 30 sonatas, the kernel is the C minor, where Faust and Melnikov strike a perfect balance between fire and ice. Their little “freedoms” are very telling but although the shaping of phrases is obviously the product of considered teamwork, you never feel that they’re playing safe. Cautious Beethoven makes for a very passionless partnership, and there’s no sense of that.
For many, the success of any recorded Beethoven violin sonata cycle rests on the effectiveness of its Kreutzer, and again Faust and Melnikov make the grade with oodles of drama and well judged tempi: nothing is too fast for comfort or too slow to get airborne. The Kreutzer shares its silver-disc space with a documentary DVD which is both musically revealing and entertaining – but I shan’t let on and spoil the fun! Airy, well balanced sound provides a realistic aural context for what may well prove the leading Beethoven violin sonata cycle of the decade, certainly one that respectfully challenges conventions so that even collectors wedded to their Kreisler, Grumiaux, Heifetz, Oistrakh, Kremer and Szigeti cycles stand to learn and be musically stimulated. A marvellous set.
-- Rob Cowan, Gramophone
This is as fine a set of Beethoven violin sonatas as has ever been recorded. It has everything: excitement, character, explosive contrasts, subtle shadings, and the long cantabile line that Beethoven demands — and it's superbly recorded as well. Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov form a true partnership, playing off of each other and imbuing the music with a genuine, conversational quality that's very fetching. There are so many examples of this, but perhaps the most winning is the give-and-take opening of Op. 30 No. 3, in which the players seem to surprise each other with each rhythmic exchange. Indeed, keenly sprung rhythms give this set much of its special distinction, whether in the dazzling first movement of the "Kreutzer" sonata, or the lilting ländler in the scherzo of Op. 96.
Lyricism and an effortless, singing cantabile also permeate the music, and these interpretations. The opening of the "Spring" sonata seldom has sounded so fresh and natural, while the finale of Op. 12 No. 2 is truly "piacevole" without ever turning "bore-vole". Five of these 10 sonatas have slow movements that are marked either "espressivo" or "cantabile", and that's exactly what Faust and Melnikov offer, without ever turning sticky or drowning the music in excessive sentiment. There's a clarity to the phrasing here, a sharpness of focus and an understanding of Beethoven's large musical paragraphs that's very much part of the expressive point. The bottom line: this is a great set, and if you love these works, you must hear it.