Review: 20 January 2022 – Martin Roscoe & Fenella Humphreys

  • Beethoven Sonata for piano and violin No. 6 in A, Op.30, no.1
  • Beethoven Sonata for piano and violin No.3 in E flat, Op.12,
  • Beethoven Sonata for piano and violinNo.9 in A, Op. 47, Kreutzer

This was the last of a series of three concerts presenting all Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and violin. As Martin Roscoe explained, Tasmin Little played in the first two. The third was delayed first by an injury to Tasmin, and then by COVID and she then retired in 2020. Jennifer Pike had agreed to play, but unfortunately became ill and had not recovered, so at just two weeks’ notice Fenella Humphreys, who plays in Martin’s piano trio, agreed to play. No-one would have guessed – they played wonderfully expressively, in complete empathy and unanimity, hardly ever needing to look at each other and with beautiful lightness when that was (so often) called for.

In Beethoven’s day the piano would have been a much softer instrument, especially in the bass. The violin would have been a softer instrument too, and with gut strings, although it had begun to increase in range and volume as Beethoven was writing these sonatas. I assumed that the pitch would have been lower too, but Beethoven’s tuning fork from 1800 is actually a semitone higher than modern pitch, so who knows? Fenella’s violin was very sweet-toned but quieter than many modern violins. By contrast the piano was a full-scale modern concert grand, and Martin handled its substantial power with great skill and technique, ensuring (almost always) balance with the violin; only when there was strong bass in the piano part was its much greater strength hard to hide.

In all three sonatas the two instruments share in virtuosity, making the publication title of number 6 (“Three sonatas for the pianoforte with the accompaniment of a violin”) hard to explain. At times the texture is like a trio, with the piano left hand playing an accompanying role while the right hand and the violin alternate, imitate and duet with each other. At other times the music flows between the two hands at the piano, with the violin accompanying. These sonatas are all full of delightful variety. In sonatas 6 and 3 the second movements are marked Adagio “with great expressiveness” and they floated serenely, while the final movements displayed dextrous sparkle.

The Kreutzer sonata (originally dedicated to George Bridgetower, a British virtuoso violinist and composer of African descent, who premiered it) is a much more monumental work. From its huge sonata-form opening movement to its brilliant Presto finale it was gripping and absorbing. This was a wonderfully enjoyable performance from two extremely talented players.

Malcolm Macleod

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