Notes and Editorial Reviews
Zukerman and Neikrug are never eccentric or extreme in interpretation, or uneven in matters of execution or balance. Tempos are rarely fast, even where one would like them fast, but a pulse is always present; the players are generous with repeats; Zukerman's command of the instrument is second to none in matters of intonation, shading of color, cleanliness of shifts, wide-ranging dynamics, and precise trills.
Zukerman and Neikrug, so recently immersed in Mozart's sonatas, grasp what was new and different in the op. 12 sonatas and make the most of it: sforzandos crackle, scales explode with energy, and the joke at the end of the third movement (taken at a relaxed piacevole tempo) of the Sonata No. 2 is nicely emphasized (the
piano plays a lone note after the violin is through, as if to satirize duos who have failed to agree in advance about taking repeats). The op. 12 sonatas were patently written to impress, and mostly by sprinkling aggressive gestures over a Mozartean base, Beethoven was able to frustrate expectations with concerto-like demands beyond anything then being asked of musicians or their instruments (any keyboard artist who took literally the published title's “or harpsichord“ was going to find himself in a real pickle).
The Sonatas Nos. 4, 5, and 6 represent, in varying degrees, a process of integration of this powerful new voice into the music, with more pliable rhythm and tempo, and growing independence of line; only knowing what was to come with the later works (and with Beethoven's other chamber music) makes Beethoven seem to be treading some water. Zukerman and Neikrug, who rarely use fast tempos even when invited to do so by the composer, play with burnished tone and much attention to alteration of color and texture. Details are not ignored; especially fine is the halting, quiet ending to the first movement of the Sonata No. 4, the continuation of that mood into the second movement (a unifying idea that Beethoven was to develop further), and the subtle variances from key in the first movement of the Sonata No. 6. The “Spring“ Sonata does not impress to an equal extent; perhaps an existing interpretation has ossified. They don't moon over its first movement but Zukerman pushes at the bar line in both the first and fourth movements.
The Sonatas Nos. 7, 8, and 9 are works of drama, drive, and outsized dynamics, punctuated by harder rhythms. All three were recorded in Dallas's Meyerson Center (the others were done in New York) and while the more resonant, less direct sound takes away some of the sonic punch, Zukerman bows aggressively to produce a really biting, etched sound. Neikrug also hits hard at those surprising interruptions, straight out of the Piano Concerto No. 3, in the second movement of the Sonata No. 7, and the following scherzo is, properly, unpredictably shaped (likewise, the theme of the fourth movement). A strong emphasis on conversation and rhythm is the highlight of the Sonata No. 8; the third movement is not a perpetual motion (as in the Mozart recordings, Neikrug's trills are not as precise as Zukerman's). Zukerman plays the opening chords of the “Kreutzer“ with great power and impressive cleanliness, while using much vibrato (also a great deal of vibrato in the thirty-second note variation in the second movement). The Presto of the first movement is on the massive side, not as mercurial as Szigeti/Bartók or Goldberg/Kraus; the same can be said of the third movement, although here Zukerman nearly overdoes the dynamic contrasts to the point of harming the sense of momentum. Neikrug beautifully phrases the theme of the second movement, with enough rubato to invite the diversity of the variations that follow. As with the “Spring,“ this is a fine but largely conventional performance of what perhaps is an irreversibly ingrained interpretation.
For me, the Sonata No. 10 is one of the great masterworks, yet Robert Dearling's fine notes regard it as a weak sister among the ten sonatas (his comparison, oddly, is to the Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8, and, less oddly, the Quartet, op. 95). No sonata is harder to prepare and practice without the partner's presence, so completely integrated are the two parts. Zukerman and Neikrug begin with a stately tempo, and Zukerman often pulls back to focus on details, easier to justify if op. 96 is regarded as “late“ Beethoven. Balances are excellent and tempos well judged in the Scherzo, where Neikrug is given plenty of elbow room to vary both tempos and dynamics. Dearling regards the fourth movement as a “somewhat noncommittal set of variations,“ but it is the theme that's poker-faced, while the variations are astonishing in the forward looking (i.e., to Schumann) implications. Zukerman and Neikrug use every legitimate means to highlight the variety: rubato, tonal color, and energetic dynamic manipulation. It's a successful conclusion to what is, in the main, and in spite of reservations over slow tempos, a quite successful set; no single sonata can be said to be given an outstanding rendition but the overall grasp of the music is impressive.
-- David K. Nelson, FANFARE [8/1992]
reviewing this set previously released as RCA 60991 Read less
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