This distinguished set is the most beautiful cycle of the Beethoven sonatas to appear since that by Dumay and Pires (Deutsche Grammophon). It has more or less the same virtues and its very few defects – a slight lack of both humour and sheer devilry – are similar. It deserves to have the widest circulation.
Renaud Capuçon and Frank Braley play absolutely superbly throughout and complement each other well. One occasionally gets the idea that the violinist is the more expansive player, the pianist the more Classical, but as we know from a French duo of bygone days, Francescatti and Casadesus, such tensions can be creative.
Do the pair differentiate the tempos of the first two movements of op.30 no.1 and op.96 enough? If they are at fault here, these are their only miscalculations; and in each case the slow movement is very persuasive. Generally you feel that a tempo has been arrived at naturally, even when it is a fast finale.
The pianist has a faultless cantabile, important in works where the piano so often sets the mood – in all four movements of op.30 no.2, for instance. Capuçon is always able to reply in kind; and he produces some wonderful shades of legato tone. At the faster extreme, the two play as a real duo, with innumerable quickfire exchanges.
Even amid such high standards, the performances of the ‘Spring’ Sonata and op.30 no.3 stand out for their overall perfection. The ‘Kreutzer’ could do with a little more Innigkeit in its introduction and a little more joy in virtuosity in its finale; but its variations are excellent and throughout there is a real lift to the rhythm.
The recordings, not too dry or too resonant, are nicely balanced, presenting the two instruments honestly. In variation movements, each section is separately tracked. The French tradition of Beethoven interpretation has scored another triumph.
From the November 2010 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.