Susanna Ogata / Ian Watson

Beethoven: Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin, Vol. 1

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Britain's Coro label has perhaps expanded its activities in the U.S. as a result of activities of conductor Harry Christophers of the Sixteen in the Boston area. They've done well to tap the vigorous historical-performance scene there, which has been around for as long as those in the big British and continental centers, but has been somewhat neglected by recording companies. Consider this first volume of a cycle devoted to Beethoven's "Sonatas for fortepiano and violin" (the term was aging by the time of the early Violin Sonata No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23, and positively outmoded by the Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47, the mighty "Kreutzer" Sonata that so rattled Tolstoy that he wrote an attack on it of which Salafists would have been proud). Putting the "Kreutzer" up front rather than plowing through the less distinctive early sonatas is a good idea, and violinist Susanna Ogata and fortepianist Ian Watson deliver a fine, vigorous performance, but it's the A minor sonata, composed in 1802 just before Beethoven's first great period of crisis, that really impresses. Watson plays a fine instrument by Americo-Czech builder Paul McNulty, a copy of an Anton Walter instrument that would've been close to what Beethoven used at the time, and Ogata uses 1772 Joseph Klotz violin with gut strings. There is nothing revolutionary about the players' interpretation, but it is so precisely done, with such vigorous attacks and carefully calibrated balances, that there is an uncanny feeling of being close to how early audiences heard the work, and of how it was bursting at the seams with new ideas. New England's top acoustic environment, Mechanics Hall in the city of Worcester, contributes to the considerable intensity. Highly recommended.

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