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Beethoven: 10 Violin Sonatas - Galoustov / Sageman

Beethoven: 10 Violin Sonatas - Galoustov / Sageman

Lyrinx  LYR2267 (3 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Beethoven - Violin Sonatas 1-10

David Galoustov
Caroline Sageman

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Review by John Broggio - February 20, 2013

The first complete set of these milestones of the violin & piano genre on SACD & in pretty good performances too that are completely undermined by a noisy audience and a verging on the dessicated acoustic.

First, a quick exposition on how the sonatas are distributed on three well-filled discs:
Disc 1 - Sonata's 1, 2, 3 & 6
Disc 2 - Sonata's 5 "Spring", 7 & 10
Disc 3 - Sonata's 4, 8 & 9 "Kreutzer"
The first three sonata's (Op. 12 1-3) date from 1797/98, No. 4 (Op. 23) from 1800, No. 5 (Op. 24) from 1800/01, No.'s 6-8 (Op. 30 1-3) from 1801/02, No. 9 (Op. 47) from 1802/03 and No. 10 (Op. 96) from 1812; so the last sonata apart, all the remaining sonatas were written in a 6-year burst that included his Op. 18 quartets, 21 numbered piano sonatas and the first 2 symphonies. The tenth sonata, by comparison, had only the Choral symphony, the last 6 piano sonatas and the late quartets to follow its composition; as a result it still feels on the same compositional plane as those immediately preceding.

Throughout, the playing of Caroline Sageman cannot be too highly praised. The articulation is brilliantly clear and the internal balance allows all of the themes written in the bass to be heard (not always achieved on modern instruments). Her achievements are all the more impressive when one considers that these are recordings of concerts. David Galoustov is nearly as impressive but there are frequent notes after position changes that don't quite hit the sweet spot - an effect exaggerated to the listener when the repeated section does(n't) contain such tuning issues. I don't want to over-emphasise such matters but those with a sensitive ear to such things need to be warned. Together, their tempo choices are in Goldilocks territory: "just right". Similarly, one must be very admiring of their unity of ensemble in all areas - the opening to Sonata No. 8 must count as one of the most difficult in the repertoire to pull off but they manage it with consummate ease.

Sadly, the recording and audience make this set very hard to enjoy on repeated listening. To deal with the audience first, despite the set being recorded between March and June 2010 - with a further series in June 2011 - usually relatively benign months for viruses, the audience seems to have in mind that Beethoven composed an obligato part for a multitude of coughers. The recording itself, of course, tries to mitigate such effects and to a certain extent is successful. However, the dryness of timbre that results makes Galoustov's violin sound as though it is being strangled; Sageman's Steinway too is robbed of all tonal richness (arguably beneficial to the textures where the left hand has fast-moving melodic material) and as the volume level rises, the tone becomes very harsh indeed. Given that one can still hear (all too readily) the audience "participation", a more natural style of recording might have served the performers rather better!

One other quirk of the editing here is the decision to leave tiny (less than 5 seconds worth) amounts of applause in after certain sonatas; the paucity in length sounds almost embarrassed. I am ambivalent about applause - if the audience reacted immediately, then don't edit out the spontaneous occasion that caused the ovation; if the audience pauses, fine - edit away. This set misses the benefits of editing out the applause and doesn't leave enough in for anyone who does like applause to be satisfied!

Sadly, given the sterling work of Sageman and nearly as great efforts from Galoustov, this can be no more than a stop gap. Fortunately Channel Classics have plans to issue a set from Rachel Podger & Gary Cooper that should, judging from their Mozart series, far outshine the sonic limitations here and pose no interpretative qualms either.

Copyright © 2013 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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