With the possible exception of J.S.Bach, Beethoven is probably the most thoroughly explored of all major composers on record. So what is this intriguing series up to? Today the lesser-known Beethoven works tend to be early ones, but not these. All these are duos for piano and violin, and the Sonata is described as being for a piano with violin accompaniment, though it can confidently be regarded as as a violin sonata. A substantial four-movement work, classical in form, it was the last that Beethoven wrote for this combination, and reveals the composer in genial and gentle mood. Why Archduke Rudolf – Beethoven’s friend and patron – is featured in a rather formal set of variations is something of a mystery. It is a competent, if somewhat academic, work but isn’t there plenty more Beethoven for this combination left to explore?
This is a splendid start for what appears to be an ongoing project for this ambitious new UK label from deepest Wiltshire. These first-rate performers clearly love and deeply understand the music, their rapport is impeccable and the insights they provide into Beethoven’s mid-period style are fascinating. Peter Sheppard Skaerved’s noble Strad serves the music proudly, and clearly benefits from the support of a modern pianoforte rather than the fortepiano that nowadays might be expected. The recording quality is admirable.
Beethoven specialised in variations, where he could explore the sonorities and textures of simple tunes with his characteristic inventiveness and humour. The Rondo may be familiar in a version for solo piano, though I am not sure whether the composer’s autograph confirms this. Not all the piano variations are suitable recital material, but the twelve Mozart ones on an aria from The Marriage of Figaro as heard on this disc are a treasure.
The insert booklet is rambling and diffuse, but who cares; this is a highly desirable addition to any Beethoven archive.