Beethoven Violin Sonatas 4, 5 & 7
ONYX 4221 / Releasing March 26th 2021
It’s a mere decade since Viktoria Mullova’s last recorded foray into Beethoven’s violin sonatas (9/10). Then her co-conspirator was Kristian Bezuidenhout; now it is Alasdair Beatson, playing a delicious Paul McNulty copy of an 1805 Viennese Walter fortepiano. In his brief explanatory note, Beatson identifies the intimacy and ‘shared subtleties of articulation and colour’ between the two instruments – Mullova’s gut-strung Guadagnini is addressed with a classical bow – which is appropriate to the music and exploited fully in this recording. Responsiveness to Beethoven’s detailed markings is a given in readings of this degree of acuity but the range of dynamics in both performance and recording (at Wyastone Concert Hall, very much the Potton Hall of the Welsh Marches) truly brings each moment to life. The opening of the C minor Sonata (Op 30 No 2) lours with a palpable sense of unease, while distant thunder in the piano’s left hand mars the sunny disposition of the SpringSonata’s first movement. The piano never becomes strident, though, retaining a vivid clarity in its bass range and avoiding hints of glassiness in the upper treble.
And Mullova’s playing, its strength and power resting on many years’ association with Beethoven and his music, strikes sparks off not only her piano support but also the sonic purity of her surroundings and the constant, still-challenging invention of each score. Her sound is rich but not creamy, and never lapses into mere beauty for its own sake. Her spectrum of tones, from the merest whisper to full-throated songfulness in lyrical passages, and range of nuance compel the attention throughout.
Among recent recordings of such extremely familiar repertoire, this one must surely rank among the finest. Will Mullova keep us waiting another ten or more years for her next sonata instalment?