Friday, 2 August 2013

Barati and Würz in Beethoven

Beethoven's ten sonatas for piano and violin do not demand a high level of virtuosity (at least as far as the violin parts are concerned; I can't speak for pianists). A set of the ten when recorded does however require a) an excellent pianist b) an excellent violinist and c) an excellent recording and balance engineer. Get all three together, and you have a classic set of the ten. The 33 sonata movements, in the main, are not “great” Beethoven as with some of his symphonies, piano sonatas or string quartets, but they are highly agreeable and well-crafted works that repay frequent playing and listening.

Balancing a violin and a piano – in performance, as well as in a recording – is tricky since the two instruments are not too compatible. The piano hammers its strings, can make a very loud noise indeed when required, and finds it difficult to play really pianissimo. The violin caresses its strings with a bow, cannot really play at a very high volume, and excels at pianissimo and cantabile passages. There are a fair number of excellent recordings of the Beethoven 10, among which I would list Renaud Capuçon and Frank Braley, Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov, Christian Ferras and Pierre Barbizet, Arthur Grumiaux and Clara Haskil, Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien, Fritz Kreisler and Franz Rupp, Josef Suk and Jan Panenka, Christian Tetzlaff and Alexander Lonquich. To these I have now added Kristof Barati with Klara Würz (I also have Leonidas Kavakos and Enrico Pace, but these await listening).

Barati and Würz are excellent; both are very high class instrumentalists, and they play as a true duo. Tempi are “spirited” -- no bad thing in these amiable and mainly agreeable works that do not set out to plumb vast emotional depths. [[So another potentially top-class set, let down as so often by the recording engineers. The piano is slightly too forward, the violin slightly too backward, meaning that when the violin is playing with the piano we often have to strain our ears. And the engineers have allowed an unpleasant over-bright sheen to many of the higher passages when played by Barati; a 1703 Stradivari does not sound like this on its higher strings! So only 7/10 for the recording technology, which is a great shame since Würz and Barati really deserve the best.]]

Post Scriptum: My opinions above concerning balance and violin sound were arrived at listening to the ten sonatas via my loudspeakers (Quad). Listening now to Op 96 through good quality wireless headphones (Sennheiser) suggests there is nothing wrong with the balance and the violin sound on these recordings. From 7/10, we should go at least to 9/10, if not a bit higher. It confirms my growing suspicion that my current loudspeakers over-favour the bass (and thus the piano) and neglect the treble (and thus the violin). Speaker change is called for. Meanwhile, my apologies to Brilliant Classics for underestimating its recorded sound here. And a chance to underline, once again, my admiration for Klara Würtz and Kristof Barati in these recordings; they may well end up as my favourite set of them all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm really grateful for your reflections on the Sound Engineering for this recording, Harry. I was suffering the same frustration of finding Barati seemingly being drowned out from time to time, by Wurtz's dominant piano, while I was wanting to get my ears full of Barati's brilliance. My judgement was: Sound 4/10! I couldn't understand why the Brilliant engineers had so little regard for this artist's extraordinary playing. I had been searching the web to see if anyone else had experienced this and fortunately came across your blog. Following your example, I discovered that listening through decent headphones restored the recording's natural balance for me and brought out the quality of both artists. I can withdraw all the nasty thoughts I was having about Brilliant's engineers. (My apologies, Brilliant!) And, thanks to your observations, I've also been alerted to the serious limitations of my own speakers when instruments like the "Lady Harmsworth" are being played.