Beethoven, Schumann, Franck

Renaud Capuçon, violin; Martha Argerich, piano

Deutsche Grammophon


Three violin sonatas by great nineteenth century composers, all in A, grace this recording by violinist Renaud Capuçon and pianist Martha Argerich. Longtime collaborators, the duo sound seamless in these performances. They create detailed renditions, faithful to the scores but keen to put their own stamp on the pieces.


The first movement of the Schumann exemplifies this approach, with the performers digging into the main theme and unspinning  legato lines in its development, the tempo treated flexibly. In the second movement, an Allegretto of considerable delicacy, Capuçon and Argerich provide shading between its major and minor sections that create a chiaroscuro effect. The final movement is dazzling, with Argerich’s right hand and the violin doubling in a fleet duet. Emphatic chords and sforzandos punctuate the music, which culminates with a heroic cadence.


Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata is one of the most prized in the violin-piano literature, and Capuçon and Argerich play it with powerfully delineated dynamic contrasts, exquisite attention to phrasing and articulations, and a sense of familiarity by dint of long association with the piece. Every time one or the other player stretches out, they know that the other will be there to support them, even catch them. The breaths provided by subtle ritardandos and slightly extended rests are part of what gives the performance a special character. Beethoven’s music isn’t meant to be motoric, but more timid performers sometimes play it that way. The second movement, an extended set of variations. The F major theme, as so often for this key in Beethoven, has a simple, limpid quality. Despite its length – over sixteen minutes – the music is shaped with a keen awareness of its overarching form. After the piano leads off, the violin takes a turn in the foreground with ornate soprano register embellishments. A minor section mid-movement lends the music a melancholic flavor, with keening accentuations doubled by violin and piano. A return to the major key references the beginning, with florid ornaments even more present. The major key persists in the last variation, the longest in the movement. It is slow and grandiose, with a cadenza-like piano introduction. The violin enters with trills and the two render the tune in a call and response duet that brings the movement to a warm conclusion. It is followed by a presto sendoff, a sonata rondo. Once again the length of the movement is significant and the jaunty theme is subjected to many different permutations and harmonic underpinnings. The playing is virtuosic, displaying Capuçon and Argerich at their fleet-fingered best. 


César Franck’s Violin Sonata, composed in 1886 when the composer was sixty-three, is an example of  late Romantic treatment of chamber music. Sinuous melodies, denied resolution again and again, suggesting the influence of Wagner’s operas. There is a winsome character to the first movement’s tune that is affecting. With the change in style, one is afforded a different sense of the musicians’ playing. Argerich displays a sonorous, muscular tone and Capuçon complements this with a steely sound of his own. The second movement, an Allegro, is where the dramatic conflict of the sonata occurs. It is followed by a recitative and fantasy, which stretch phrases nearly to their breaking point in mournful melodies. The ambiguity of harmony and interwoven rhythms move the piece to the other side of the romantic divide, reminiscent of Johannes Brahms. The sonata comes full circle, returning to an allegretto tempo for the final movement. The beginning’s descending thirds are offset later by shimmering altissimo duets. Juxtaposed are A minor, in boisterous passages, and the more lyrical exploration of A major. Cascades of piano arpeggios,  scales and supple variations of the tune by the violin build the piece to a rousing finish. 


There are many recordings of these pieces. Few display the lived-in quality and consummate sensitivity of Capuçon and Argerich. Recommended.


-Christian Carey