Beethoven Complete Violin Sonatas
Every track on this set shows Maria João Pires and Augustin Dumay’s well-established rapport that makes it second nature for them to follow one another; as a consequence the performances have a natural flow, sounding flexible and spontaneous. Their involvement with the music is equally striking, and they have distinct ideas about how every movement, every section, should go; there’s not a dull bar on any of the CDs. They’re very well recorded, and make much of the music sound very beautiful.
Readers will sense a ‘but’ coming, yet I’d first like to stress how fine most of the playing is – the whole of Op 96, for example, where in the first movement the serene motion and perfectly blended sound produce an almost hypnotic effect. Op 12 No 2 is another sensitive, well-considered interpretation, and there are many splendid movements: for example the Adagio cantabile of Op 30 No 2, a model of beautifully phrased lyrical playing, or the refined, highly expressive variations in the Kreutzer Sonata.
In other places, though, the purist in me is up in arms. I’d grant that even Beethoven’s notes, slurs and dynamics don’t have the force of holy writ, but he did take the trouble to give his interpreters a lot of very precise directions. It’s Dumay who is the main culprit, adding extra notes to make double stops (Op 30 No 2 first movement, Op 30 No 3 finale) and on numerous occasions omitting or changing slurs, elongating short notes or changing dynamics. There’s one whole passage in the finale of Op 23, marked piano by Beethoven, which Dumay and Pires perform forte.
Some of the alterations are, I’ll admit, strikingly effective, but it seems to me that the best Beethoven performances take notice of all the clues and then make it all sound spontaneous and ‘meant’. This is how Rudolf Serkin and Adolf Busch proceed in the Adagio of Op 12 No 3; Pires and Dumay, however, don’t preserve the distinction Beethoven makes between ‘ordinary’ dotted rhythms and the sharper, more energetic double dots, sacrificing some of the music’s breadth and nobility.
You may not be as bothered as I am by these liberties, and I’m sure you’ll appreciate the finesse and communicative power of the performances. And even when, as in the quiet, restrained Adagio of Op 30 No 1, Dumay and Pires present an unusual view of the music, the beauty of the playing is extremely persuasive.