In issue 33:2 and again in 34:1, Robert Maxham reviewed new releases by a young, Hungarian violinist named Kristóf Baráti. That first entry, a review of Baráti performing Paganini’s First and Second concertos, earned Maxham’s strong recommendation. A year later, the second entry, a review of Baráti performing Bach’s complete Unaccompanied Violin SonatasRead more and Partitas, earned Maxham’s urgent recommendation. Had I paid more attention to Robert’s reviews at the time, I might have made Baráti’s acquaintance sooner than I did from this brand new Beethoven set, but knowing that Robert and I are not always of similar mind when it comes to violinists and violin playing, I didn’t give his reviews the careful consideration they deserved. Well, my bad and my loss, for I am prepared to say that Kristóf Baráti is not just another prize-winning whiz-kid on the violin, he is a talent that comes along once in a decade, perhaps once in a generation.
Actually, he’s no kid, at least not any more. Born in Budapest in 1979, he’s now 34, hardly over the hill, but no awkward adolescent either. In recent months, I’ve found myself really impressed by some up-and-coming young violinists—Stefan Jackiw comes to mind in a 2011 Want List recording of the Brahms sonatas—but Baráti is something different; he’s of an order of magnitude greater than any player I’ve encountered in at least the last 10 years. Even as I write this, I realize that to dwell on Baráti’s technical perfection—his cleanness of articulation and dead-center intonation, the buttery beauty of tone he draws from his 1703 “Lady Harmsworth” Strad, and his rhythmic accuracy, so precise you could set the earth’s atomic clock by it—is to focus on but the surface of his artistry.
In 10 sonatas, I count not one—that’s zero—portamentos, even when Beethoven’s melodic line tempts one to indulge the impulse. Moreover, Baráti’s vibrato is so restrained and subtle that one is often left wondering, “is he or isn’t he?” Yet for all his resistance to the obvious modes of emoting, Baráti finds even more effective ways of communicating expression in the notes themselves. Slight changes in bow pressure and exquisite attention to Beethoven’s gradations in dynamics make for readings that are indescribably responsive to the music. Lest I be guilty of downplaying Baráti’s phenomenal technique, let me assure you that where the scores invite virtuoso showmanship, Baráti delivers. The pace in fast movements tends generally towards the upper range of today’s metronome settings for the marked tempos, and in some cases is faster than I can recall ever hearing certain movements or sections thereof played. For a jaw-dropping experience, try the second variation in the second movement of the “Kreutzer” Sonata, the finale of the C-Minor Sonata (No. 7), or the loony last movement of the G-Major Sonata (No. 8). I seem to remember the latter played this fast only once, on a 1957 Capitol recording by Nathan Milstein and Arthur Balsam, an LP I no longer have. I think it’s significant though, that Baráti undertook finishing studies with Eduard Wulfson, himself a student of Milstein, Menuhin, and Szeryng.
Another aspect of Baráti’s technique—at least one that amazes me—is his articulation of chords. Not only does he not break them, but his sweep of them is so fused and clean that they sound bonded together as they would if struck on a keyboard. There is no sense of a chord being swiped over strings across a curved bridge and fingerboard; it’s as if the bridge and fingerboard are flat, like on a guitar. I’m not sure how Baráti manages this effect, but he does, which is one reason I’m now so intent on hearing his Bach sonatas and partitas to see how he handles the double- and triple-stopping in those works.
Lest I also be guilty of ignoring Baráti’s partner in these miraculous performances, let me say that pianist Klára Würtz is every bit as amazing a player as Baráti. Her interplay with him and the violin part is as attentive and attention-grabbing as I’ve ever heard. Where the violin and piano parts diverge in leapfrog or echo fashion, Würtz doesn’t simply try to imitate Baráti’s phrasing or inflection, but just as often finds a flip side to the passage so that we hear an alternate aspect or dimension of it. Yet, when the two parts come together, the meshing is so seamless you may momentarily believe you’re hearing a single instrument.
This is not something I’ve ever said before, and I don’t say it lightly now, but no matter how many other sets of Beethoven’s complete violin sonatas you may have—unless you’re a die-hard fan of versions by Heifetz or Grumiaux, Francescatti/Casadesus, Menuhin/Kempff, Stern/Istomin, Szeryng/Haebler, or one of the more recent period-instrument renditions—you might as well give them away to friends or Goodwill, because once you’ve heard Baráti and Würtz, you’ll never listen to anyone else again.
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12, No. 1: I. Allegro con brio
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12, No. 1: II. Theme and Variations: Andante con moto
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12, No. 1: III. Rondo: Allegro
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2: I. Allegro vivace
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2: II. Andante, piu tosto: Allegretto
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2: III. Allegro piacevole
Violin Sonata No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 12, No. 3: I. Allegro con spirito
Violin Sonata No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 12, No. 3: II. Adagio con molto espressione
Violin Sonata No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 12, No. 3: III. Rondo: Allegro molto
Violin Sonata No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 23: I. Presto
Violin Sonata No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 23: II. Andante scherzoso, piu allegretto
Violin Sonata No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 23: III. Allegro molto
Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24, "Spring": I. Allegro
Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24, "Spring": II. Adagio molto espressivo
Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24, "Spring": III. Scherzo: Allegro molto
Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24, "Spring": IV. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Excellent set at bargain priceNovember 30, 2012By H. Hurley (Round Rock, TX)See All My Reviews"Both of the musicians on this recording are outstanding in their own right and together they make an excellent team. The interpretations are very traditional which is a good thing - note the beginning of the Spring sonata which has never sounded better. In addition to being excellent technically, each musician shows a strong sense of feeling particularly in the slower movements, and a great sense of ensemble in the faster movements. The recording and soundstage are fine, the instruments sound fine, and overall this is a strongly recommended set, particularly at bargain price."Report Abuse