Matthias Metzger / Gerrit Zitterbart

Beethoven: Sonatas for Violin & Piano, Opp. 23, 24 & 47

(CD - Coviello Classics #20904)

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This release from Germany's Coviello Classics ought to find a ready market among listeners curious about the entire controversy about "authentic" and "modern" performance, and it's surprising how rarely the idea executed here by violinist Matthias Metzger and pianist Gerrit Zitterbart has been done before. They offer the same program, played straight through twice, once on historically appropriate instruments and once on modern ones. Moreover, they do not adjust the interpretation based in these instruments' capabilities; they make similar choices in both versions. This focuses the listener's attention on the differences among the instruments, but buyers should be aware that the playing heard here on the "authentic" disc 1 is on the restrained side; many historical keyboardists make greater use of the percussive qualities of the fortepiano, or early piano, than Zitterbart does. The fortepiano is undeniably less powerful and quieter than the modern grand, but it has a sharper sound and a varied palette of colors that seems to naturally shine through the violin's lines. Old violins are often played in a modern way, but originally, as with the one played here on disc one by Metzger, they had gut strings that produced a noticeably warmer but less brilliant sound than modern metal ones. Which way is better? That is, of course, up to the listener. But consider that the answer may be different for different works of Beethoven, who a) lived in a time when piano technology was undergoing rapid development and might have welcomed each new step with open arms, and b) developed stylistically partly in tandem with, but partly independently of, technical developments. Note how the historical violin produces a delightfully intimate, warm reading of the Sonata for violin and piano No. 5 in F major, Op. 24, "Spring," that is hard to duplicate with a modern instrument. Note also that the radical great waves of energy in the Sonata No. 9 for violin and piano, Op. 47, "Kreutzer," turn out much less clearly delineated in the historical performance, or at least in this one. Recommended for any listener interested in this historical-performance issue.

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