VIOLIN SONATAS NOS. 4, 9 & 10
With this third album, which includes Sonata No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 23, the famous Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 (“Kreutzer”), and Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96, Andrew Wan and Charles RichardHamelin complete their recording of the entire cycle of Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770–1827) sonatas for violin and piano.
Sonata No. 4 was composed in parallel with Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24 (“Spring”) in the latter half of 1800. Sonata No. 4 stands apart from both its opus 12 predecessors and Sonata No. 5 with its spartan piano part, which, more often than not, has only a single voice playing in each hand; the resulting texture is much akin to a string trio. After the rhythmic energy of the opening “Presto,” the middle section, marked “Andante scherzoso più allegretto,” serves as a light interlude between two serious movements. The concluding rondo features a number of highly contrasting sections, one of which foreshadows that of Sonata No. 9 (“Kreutzer”).
The arrival in Vienna of George Polgreen Bridgetower (1778–1860) in the spring of 1803 hastened the composition of the first two movements of Sonata No. 9, which had been sketched in the early part of that year. The young British violinist, whom Beethoven considered “a very capable virtuoso who has a complete command of his instrument,” premiered the work 9 on May 24, 1803. Beethoven initially planned to dedicate the sonata to Bridgetower but, after a quarrel, instead dedicated it to French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766–1831), who deemed it “unintelligible” and never once performed it publicly. The sonata does indeed require a concerto-like level of virtuosity. Uniquely among Beethoven’s 10 violin sonatas, it opens with a slow, solemn introduction that signals the breadth of the work to come. A brief “Adagio sostenuto” in A major precedes a formidable “Presto” in A minor, in which violin and piano attempt to outdo each other in fervour and stamina. The tumultuous first movement is followed by a charming, soothing, and generously proportioned “Andante con variazioni.” The concluding “Presto,” initially written for Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1 (1802), evokes a sparkling, spirited tarantella.
Sonata No. 10 was written in 1812, a year that marked a turning point in Beethoven’s emotional life, as evidenced by the “Immortal Beloved” letter, which expresses both a deep passion and the beginnings of resignation. Sonata No. 10 could not be more different from the preceding sonata. Its refined instrumental textures, subtle nuances, and intimate mood are felt from the first notes of the opening “Allegro moderato” and herald Beethoven’s late style. Out of the second movement, marked “Adagio espressivo” and characterized by long melodic lines, segues a strong-willed scherzo, whose waltz-like central trio features a number of imitative passages between the violin and two voices played in different registers of the piano. The closing rondo is a suite of variations on a German folksong, which takes a very free, even experimental, turn starting with the fifth variation.
© Florence Brassard
English Translation: Peter Christensen