Hiro Kurosaki / Linda Nicholson

Beethoven: Complete Violin Sonatas, Vol. 3

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Offering Beethoven's first three sonatas for violin and piano plus the little Rondo in G major, WoO 41, as an encore, this third entry in the complete cycle by historical-performance violinist Hiro Kurosaki and fortepianist Linda Nicholson provides a good introduction to the qualities a listener can expect when hearing Beethoven on the instruments he himself would have imagined. Kurosaki uses an Italian violin from around 1700 with a south German bow from about 1780, "producing a mellow sound," the booklet claims, "that blends well with the piano's textures." The piano is a Walter instrument, dating perhaps from just before the composition of the three Op. 12. The violin may have a mellow sound compared with other historical instruments, but Kurosaki plays it with a near-total absence of vibrato. Combined with the quick definition of the fortepiano, the effect is to drive the listener's interest toward the passagework in the outer movements and to the harmonic reach contained therein. Encountering these readings, one understands why a contemporary critic heard in these generally Mozartian sonatas something "quite peculiar" and "overladen with strange difficulties." The album opens with strong impact in the unison beginning chords of the Violin Sonata in D major, Op. 12/1, and never really lets up. The balance between the piano and violin is just right here. Hard as it may seem to believe, these works were originally billed as "Tre Sonate per il Clavicembalo o Fortepiano con un Violino" (Three Sonatas for Harpsichord or Fortepiano with Violin), emphasizing their connection to the earlier Mozart model. The violin here supports the piano but seems to be working its way free, as indeed it increasingly would in Beethoven's later sonatas for this combination of instruments. The West German Radio studio sound is quite live but well suited to the aims of the performers. Recommended for Beethoven collections and for those wanting a taste of Beethoven on historical instruments. The relationship between the music and the nude German Expressionist cover art might be a matter of debate.

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