Recorded for the Beethoven bicentenary in 1970, violinist Yehudi Menuhin and pianist Wilhelm Kempff's recordings of the composer's complete violin sonatas are excerpted here to couple the two best-known: the "Spring" and "Kreutzer" sonatas. Before the fact, the partnership seemed unlikely to succeed, Menuhin being warm-toned, romantically lyrical, and rhythmically impulsive and Kempff dry-toned, classically polished, and rhythmically reserved. And although acknowledged on release as a wonderful addition to an already distinguished discography for these core repertoire works, it was also admitted that Menuhin and Kempff's performances succeeded in spite of the performers -- and succeeded brilliantly. Neither player changed his fundamental nature: Menuhin's tone is as ineffably sweet in the "Spring's" Adagio molto espressivo as Kempff's is decisively dry; Kempff's tempos are as ineluctably propulsive in the "Kreutzer's" closing Presto as Menuhin's are inevitably impetuous. Yet the performances do succeed. Menuhin's warmth softened Kempff's severity, Kempff's firmness strengthened Menuhin's resolve, and together they created performances much greater than the sum of their parts. This disc will make a fine introduction to the works and a welcome addition to any collection of Beethoven's violin sonatas -- though fans of the works are likely going to want to hear all of Menuhin and Kempff's recordings. Deutsche Grammophon's stereo sound is so vivid the listener can feel the heat from Menuhin's bow.
Review by James Leonard
|Sonata for violin & piano No. 5 in F major ("Spring"), Op. 24|
|Sonata for violin & piano No. 9 in A major ("Kreutzer"), Op. 47|