BEETHOVEN Violin Sonatas Nos 1, 5 & 10 (Gatto & Libeer)
It might seem perverse to begin a chamber review by discussing the piano, especially when the violinist Lorenzo Gatto is playing the 1698 ‘Joachim’ Strad. But listen to even a few bars of Op 12 No 1 and I suspect you, too, will be sent back to the booklet in search of more information. Imagine a warm, transparent modern piano sound coupled to the clarity of attack (and, when desired, the swiftness of decay) of an early 19th-century instrument. Now imagine its potential in the hands of a pianist as sensitive and intelligent as Julien Libeer.
Libeer is playing a straight-strung concert grand by the Belgian maker Chris Maene. Daniel Barenboim commissioned the first, as recently as 2013, but Classical and early Romantic chamber music seems to be its natural home: especially in sonatas (such as Beethoven’s Op 12 set) which the composer specified were ‘for piano and violin’ rather than the other way around. That’s essentially what you get throughout these three thoughtful, unaffected readings. Whether or not these two artists intended an approach that would place Libeer’s piano on equal terms with Gatto’s unglossy chamber-scale violin sound I don’t know; but the instrument allows Libeer to be expansive, brisk and brilliant as required, without ever threatening to overwhelm his partner.
They swing forwards enthusiastically in the scherzos of Opp 24 and 96 but the hearts of these readings are in the slower, more intimate music: the stillness that spreads across the centre of the finale of Op 96 is profound, and the dialogue that launches that particular sonata seems to emerge out of nowhere. This is deeply unshowy Beethoven but it’s intensely sincere and it sounds entirely new. Try it.