Thursday, 28 February 2013

Renaud Capuçon and Frank Braley

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote ten sonatas for violin and piano, most of them during the earlier period of his life. As a set, they contain many genial movements and provide well over three hours of happy listening. They are chamber works, written mainly around 1800 and were designed for performances in palace rooms, rather than Carnegie Hall. They succeed best when played as chamber works by a violinist and a pianist of equal artistic stature. In the main, the piano part leads and predominates, thus the importance of the pianist. Sets that really succeed musically include Joseph Szigeti with Claudio Arrau, Arthur Grumiaux with Clara Haskil and, nearer our own time, Isabelle Faust with Alexander Melnikov, and Alina Ibragimova with Cédric Tiberghien. During the 1930s EMI wanted to record the set with Kreisler and Rachmaninov – that would really have been something – but because of cost, opted for the gifted Franz Rupp instead of the expensive Rachmaninov.

To my mind, the prime prerequisites of a satisfactory set are a) a first class violinist with a first class pianist and b) an ideal recorded balance between piano and violin. Often, particularly in the past, the violinist was over-favoured. Sometimes, the piano is so loud and so dominant that the music becomes unbalanced. This is chamber music, not virtuoso music, and it is the chamber music approach by Renaud Capuçon and Frank Braley that is giving me so much pleasure on my most recent acquisition. For most of the movements, 55% of the importance goes to the pianist, and 45% to the violin; that is how it sounds here (and how it certainly does not sound with Jascha Heifetz and Emanuel Bay). Capuçon and Braley play as a chamber music team; they do not over-inflate this mainly genial music and give it a French-style clarity as the parts move to and fro. For a change, the recording engineers sound clued up and neither instrument is over-favoured compared with the other. 55% of the time I am marvelling at Frank Braley; 45% at Renaud Capuçon. Highly enjoyable.

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