WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Beethoven: Complete Sonatas For Violin And Piano / Govatos, Barone

Beethoven / Govatos / Barone
Release Date: 12/11/2012 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9389   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Barbara GovatosMarcantonio Barone
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  
On sale! $41.98
CD:  $35.99
In Stock



Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN The Violin Sonatas Barbara Govatos (vn); Marcantonio Barone (pn) BRIDGE 9389 (4CDs: 229:01)



With so many recordings of these sonatas to choose from, starting with the first complete set (I believe) by Fritz Kreisler and Franz Rupp in 1935, listeners have been both seduced and disappointed by the various versions that followed. Yehudi Menuhin? The most sensuously beautiful tone in all of violin-dom. To my ears Louis Kentner on his early EMI set is prosaic while Wilhelm Kempff on the 1970 set, as Read more usual, overplays his hand and is all over the place musically. (Menuhin and Glenn Gould left us an impressive recording of Sonata No. 10, but that’s the only one they did together.) David Oistrakh? I can’t think of a better overall violinist, but in his case the pianist (Lev Oborin) underplays his part. So too does Brooks Smith with Jascha Heifetz. Gidon Kremer with Argerich? A nice try, but for all his drama I can’t take Kremer’s wiry, inconsistent tone. In all my experience, I’ve only heard two sets that have really pleased me, Arthur Grumiaux with Clara Haskil (Decca) and a very personal favorite of mine, Pamela and Claude Frank (Music & Arts).


Now we can add Barbara Govatos and Marcantonio Barone, and in certain ways they surpass both my favorite sets. Not necessarily in violin tone: Govatos, who has been a first violinist of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1982, has the kind of timbre one normally associates with a lead violinist in an orchestra: very bright, with a cutting sound à la Heifetz, which on records occasionally comes across as hard when in person it does not. But Govatos is, without question, one of the most interesting and intense interpreters of these supremely challenging works I’ve ever heard, and I’m willing to overlook occasional hardness for the sake of her incredible musical intensity and intelligence. To put it colorfully, Govatos simply eats these sonatas up. She pounces on every phrase with the intensity of a cat cornering its prey; she knows how to inject elegance and drama when needed, and more importantly, she also understands Beethoven’s peculiar galumphing sense of humor. And without those occasional touches of humor, the drama falls flat. Grumiaux and Menuhin also understood this, but Heifetz did not: For him, everything was pretty serious.


I no longer have the Grumiaux-Haskil set for comparison, but playing the Franks side-by-side with Govatos and Barone one is left speechless by the latter’s accomplishments. I always found the Franks very fine in capturing the dynamic range of this music, but Govatos and Barone are almost always more dynamic. It’s like seeing a favorite movie that one knew in color suddenly spring to life in 3-D, and of course much of this is owed to Barone. With the exception of Leonard Shure, whose live performances of the violin sonatas are available with an OK but not great violinist (Henri Temianka), I can’t recall having heard the piano parts of these sonatas (I’m speaking now of complete sets, not individual recordings) played with such intense and intelligent phrasing and control of dynamics. In brief, Barone maintains such a consistently high standard in his playing that it rises above the function of mere accompaniment to become an equal partner in the continuing drama, and the duo employs a generous amount of rubato which will keep listeners on the edge of their seats. With both musicians functioning on such a consistently high level, everything falls into place. I’m not ready to say that their performance of the “Kreutzer” Sonata comes up to the level of intensity achieved by Bronislaw Huberman, particularly in his second (1930) recording with Ignacy Friedman, but then again neither does anyone else. More to the point, Govatos and Barone give us something a bit more valuable, a true representation of this sonata as defined by Beethoven in its original title: “Sonata for the Piano and an Obbligato Violin, written in a very concertante style, almost like that of a concerto.” Long-winded, yes, but a much more accurate description of the music than “Kreutzer Sonata,” which in fact it was not. It was originally written for and premiered by the mulatto violinist George Augustus Bridgetower, only dedicated to Rodolphe Kreutzer—who hated the music and never played it—when it was published.


Perhaps one means of judging the supremely high quality of this set is not from the more famous sonatas but rather from those that normally make very little impression. A good example is the fourth sonata, op. 23, in A Minor. This is probably Beethoven’s most lyrical and least dramatic violin sonata, a work that has a difficult time making its mark. Govatos and Barone retain the required lyricism in their phrasing (in fact, in this work her tone is at its sweetest and most exquisite), yet there’s a smoldering intensity in the first and last movements, suggesting that the composer’s own emotions were somehow reined in during its composition but still present. (The liner notes tell an amusing anecdote by Beethoven’s pupil, pianist Ferdinand Ries, who was asked to play this work for the composer. Ries was so nervous about trying to get the feeling of this music right that he balked, offering to play any other sonata but that one, but Beethoven was adamant. Surprising even himself, Ries passed muster with the notoriously demanding Beethoven.) Another of my favorite test-pieces is the Eighth Sonata (op. 30/3), which I have in a superlative version by Fritz Kreisler (not from the complete set) with Sergei Rachmaninoff. Govatos and Barone not only equal them in terms of phrasing and energy, but find an even greater dynamic and emotional range in virtually every movement.


The liner notes also give us a fascinating glimpse into how these two superb musicians got together. It seems that Govatos and Barone first met as 18-year-olds who won prizes “in different divisions of the same concerto competition in Philadelphia,” and liked each others’ playing, but it wasn’t until five years later that Barone had the chance to recontact Govatos by phone on behalf of a mutual friend. Apparently, both had the same idea: You know what? I really liked your playing…let’s perform chamber music together! And they’ve done so as recital partners since 1985.


Yet another excellent reason for owning this set: All the sonatas are presented here in chronological order. Now, how hard is that, really? Especially since they fit easily onto four discs in that order. (In fact, to be honest, this set could have come out on three CDs, even though the third would have been 80:15 long…lots of modern-day CDs are a shade over 80 minutes, some actually around 81 minutes.) This set sells online for only $5 more than either Grumiaux and Haskil (Decca 886502) or Pamela and Claude Frank (Music & Arts 1143, once on Music Masters 67197 which sold for around $50), but you’re getting much more realistic sound than the former and livelier performances than the latter. Highly recommended.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Read less

Works on This Recording

1. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 9 in A major, Op. 47 "Kreutzer" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Barbara Govatos (Violin), Marcantonio Barone (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1802-1803; Vienna, Austria 
2. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 8 in G major, Op. 30 no 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Barbara Govatos (Violin), Marcantonio Barone (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801-1802; Vienna, Austria 
3. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 7 in C minor, Op. 30 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Barbara Govatos (Violin), Marcantonio Barone (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801-1802; Vienna, Austria 
4. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 6 in A major, Op. 30 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Barbara Govatos (Violin), Marcantonio Barone (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801-1802; Vienna, Austria 
5. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 5 in F major, Op. 24 "Spring" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Barbara Govatos (Violin), Marcantonio Barone (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800-1801; Vienna, Austria 
6. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 4 in A minor, Op. 23 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Barbara Govatos (Violin), Marcantonio Barone (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
7. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 3 in E flat major, Op. 12 no 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Barbara Govatos (Violin), Marcantonio Barone (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1797-1798; Vienna, Austria 
8. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2 in A major, Op. 12 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Barbara Govatos (Violin), Marcantonio Barone (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1797-1798; Vienna, Austria 
9. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 10 in G major, Op. 96 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Barbara Govatos (Violin), Marcantonio Barone (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1812; Vienna, Austria 
10. Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 in D major, Op. 12 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Barbara Govatos (Violin), Marcantonio Barone (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1797-1798; Vienna, Austria 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Lively and expressive April 10, 2013 By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA) See All My Reviews "Barbara Govatos and Marcantonio Barone have been performing as a duo for over a decade, which makes their traversal of Beethoven's ten violin sonatas so enjoyable. There's an easy give-and-take between these performers that turn the music into a lively conversation between old friends. Both Govatos and Barone play with precision, which makes them well-matched. These are very clean performances. And energy isn't sacrificed for accuracy either. The early sonatas -- especially the Op. 12 set -- sound lively and exuberant. I especially enjoyed the Spring sonata (op. 24). Govatos' playing was light and airy. Her bow seemed to just glide over the top of the strings. Another high point of the set for me was the the seventh sonata (Op. 30, No. 2). The duo's smooth execution and full-throttle rush to the big cadence points ramped up the excitement. Contrast that with the hear-breaking delicacy of the slow movement, and you have a real winner. The Kreutzer sonata (Op. 47) sounded a little restrained at first, but the energy level picked up as it went along. Overall, these are solid performances. The drama is there -- it's just not over the top. The recording quality of this release is quite high. There's not a lot of room ambiance, but the instruments are recorded with enough distance to provide some natural resonance. The result is a very transparent sound that makes it easy to hear the interplay between the instruments." Report Abuse
Review This Title
Review This Title Share on Facebook