Wilhelm Kempff / Yehudi Menuhin

Beethoven: Sonatas for Violin & Piano Nos. 5 & 9

(CD - Deutsche Grammophon #000292102)

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The story here isn't that the superlative performances of Beethoven's two most popular violin sonatas recorded by Yehudi Menuhin and Wilhelm Kempff for Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft's Beethoven Bicentennial Edition of 1970 have been reissued. Reissues of these wonderful recordings have been kicking around the catalog for 30 years and they've always been at or near the top of the short list of best available recordings. No, the story here is that Menuhin and Kempff's recordings have been reissued not on Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, Deutsche Grammophon, or even just DG, but instead on Universal Classics, "a series of full-length albums featuring world-class performances from the artist rosters of the Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, and Philips labels." That means that Menuhin and Kempff's poised yet passionate performances are now Universal property. What was once quintessentially Deutsche Grammophon about the recording -- its clarity, its lucidity, and its signature "cool is warm" sound -- is now subsumed into the Universal sound by being incorporated into the Universal series of classics. That Menuhin and Kempff's expressive yet elegant performances are again incarnated in plastic and that Deutsche Grammophon's sound has been preserved in Universal sound is good. But that DG's "cool is warm" sound, as well as Decca's "rich is warm" sound and Philips' "clear is warm" sound are now all Universal sound marks the passing of an era. The clarity of DG's sound for Menuhin and Kempff is different from the clarity of Decca's sound for Solti and the Chicago and the clarity of Philips' sound for the Quartetto Italiano. There are subtleties of clarity as there are degrees of warmth and in the icy plastic of Universal sound, the subtleties are lost and there is no degree of warmth.

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