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Friday, May 08, 2009

Less than Stellar Beethoven

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Sonata No. 9 in A¸ Op. 47 “Kreutzer” [40:03]

Violin Sonata No. 5 in F, Op. 24 “Spring” [24:09]

Kalina Macuta (violin)

Daniel Blanch (piano)

Recorded 12-13 August 2008 in Barcelona. Specific venue is not listed. Live concert recording.


Kalina Macuta and Daniel Blanch serve up a concert performance of Beethoven’s two most popular and in turn demanding sonatas for violin and piano. The “Kreutzer” dedicated as a second choice to the French violinist and teacher Rodolphe Kreutzer, is one of the most involved and taxing of Beethoven’s ten such compositions. The “Spring” so named for its lyrical first movement and its sprightly but scant scherzo is arguably the most popular thanks in part to its abundance of pretty tunes. While such a pairing has the potential for a most satisfying recital, there is also the danger that less than stellar performances will grate on the ear. Alas, that is what is on offer in this release from Columna Classics.

Thigs get off to a pretty bad start from the first bar. Ms. Macuta’s fairly chilly tone is not helped by a very dry and boxy acoustic. The Kreutzer opens with an unusually long and complex movement, beginning with a slow unaccompanied solo that sets a serious mood for the rest of the work. Ms. Macuta stomps through the music will precious little finesse. At times she growls on the lower strings producing a tone that barely resembles pitch. In her upper register, intonation problems mar the sound, and often there seems to be no connection between her and her collaborator. They are noticeably out of sync on more than one occasion.

The theme and variations gets better treatment, but one wants a good deal more emotional commitment (subjective as such a comment may be) than comes to the fore. It is as if both musicians are breathing a sigh of relief that this slower music is easier to keep together. The finale is more accurate but no more beautiful to listen to with more grunting sounds produced from a harsh digging at the strings in the lower registers.

The “Spring” comes off sweeter, but there are so many exemplary performances from which to choose of this music, (try Pinchas Zukerman and Mark Neikrug for the Spring on RCA667888 or Vadim Repin and Martha Argerich in the Kreutzer on DG966302) that this release begs the question, “Why bother?” There is just not enough rewarding music making here to justify the outlay of cash. Add to the mix annoying and unnecessary applause at the end of each work and the project is pretty much dead in the water.

Side note: for a most evocative performance of the first movement of the Kreutzer, visit British violinist Jack Liebeck’s website at He and Katya Apekisheva serve up a brilliant performance in a 2002 film directed Tim Meara, based on the Tolstoy story “Kreutzer Sonata.”

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