BEETHOVEN Violin Sonatas Nos 6 & 9
This is James Ehnes’s first disc of Beethoven sonatas and I very much hope it will herald a complete survey. He is joined by his regular partner-in-crime, Andrew Armstrong, and their long familiarity pays real dividends. The coupling of the Kreutzer with Op 30 No 1 is also musically astute, as the latter’s original Presto finale ended up as the concluding movement of the Kreutzer.
They programme the Kreutzer first and its opening movement has that essential Bachian purity, which gives way to a Presto full of strength and energy, yet finesse and suppleness too. Silences are used to compelling effect, and the pizzicatos at 6'31" (track 1) are sufficiently present without knocking you to the back of the room. The closing moments too are judged to a nicety, taking the dynamic and tempo right down before the final explosion.
They are a tad slower in the Andante theme than Dumay and Pires or Faust and Melnikov but as soon as the variations begin their reading takes off. Ibragimova and Tiberghien, caught live, are also relatively spacious but so highly coloured that they’re compelling indeed. Ehnes and Armstrong are stunningly responsive in the finale, with a sense of propulsion, yet without overlooking its moments of delicacy.
Op 30 No 1 may share a key with the Kreutzer but otherwise they are worlds apart. The opening, which has to sound almost nonchalant, can sound forced; not here, though, where everything unfolds with complete inevitability. Faust and Melnikov play up Beethoven’s juxtapositions of dynamics and moods even more, but choice is down to taste, for both are masterly readings. Ehnes and Armstrong are ravishing in the slow movement, truly molto espressivo, while a sense of playfulness is irresistibly apparent in every bar of the finale, setting the seal on a compelling addition to Ehnes and Armstrong’s remarkable discography.