Sunday 23 March 2014

On a new release from Nimbus, Elizabeth Wallfisch and David Breitman bring a freshness to Beethoven’s violin sonatas that is entirely beguiling

Violinist, Elizabeth Wallfisch is one of the most prominent musicians in the field of 17th, 18th and 19th century music. She has been Guest Director/Leader of many of the world’s orchestras including Tafelmusik Canada, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Philharmonia Baroque, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Carmel Bach Festival.

Indeed, one has only to look in the booklets of numerous recordings for her name to appear. Her repertoire is vast and her discography extensive. In 2007 and 2013 Elizabeth Wallfisch was Music Director of National Music Camp Australia and is currently Artistic Director of The Wallfisch Band, an international period instrument orchestra that gives talented younger players the opportunity to play alongside experienced players at the peak of their profession.

Elizabeth Wallfisch’s is part of a family of musicians. Indeed her grandfather was the renowned conductor, Albert Coates. She is married to cellist Raphael Wallfisch and their children, Benjamin Wallfisch, Simon Wallfisch and Joanna Wallfisch are all outstanding musicians.

Born in Australia, she came to London to study, making her home there ever since.

Fortepianist and pianist, David Breitman is no less accomplished both in the field of period and modern performance. He has collaborated with baritone, Sanford Sylvan for many years, undertaking hundreds of recitals and making a number of recordings, ranging from Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin to The Glass Hammer, a major song cycle by Cuban-American composer, Jorge Martin. Breitman has also recorded Mozart’s sonatas for violin and piano, on period instruments, with Jean-François Rivest for Analekta. He is one of seven fortepianists on a 10 CD recording of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas on Claves as well as having recorded the Beethoven cello sonatas with another fine period instrument musician, Jaap ter Linden.

He is Director of the Historical Performance Program at Oberlin Conservatory where he teaches fortepiano and clavichord as well as courses in performance practice.

Both Elizabeth Wallfisch and David Breitman have come together on a new 2 CD release from Nimbus  featuring Beethoven’s violin sonatas. This set is volume one of a projected complete cycle of these works by these artists.

NI 6245/6

Elizabeth Wallfisch plays a violin by Ekkard Seidl (1997), a copy of Guarnerius del Gésu and uses a bow by James Dodd dating from around the 1780’s.

David Breitman will be using three different fortepianos during this cycle but on volume one he plays a five octave fortepiano by the eminent maker Paul McNulty , a copy of an Anton Walter instrument of 1792. This instrument, as heard on these recordings, has a clarity combined with a rather more full bodied lower register.

The sonatas on these discs are taken in chronological order, enabling us to follow Beethoven’s development during these earlier years.

In the Allegro con brio of Sonata No.1 in D major, Op.12 No.1 one is immediately struck by the more intimate sound that these period instruments bring, with Elizabeth Wallfisch providing a crystal clear yet sweetly singing tone.  David Breitman provides crisply drawn phrasing and ensemble is absolutely superb. This duo brings a lightness of touch combined with moments of real poetry. There is a beautifully paced Tema con variazioni (Andante con moto) with lovely little forward surges that bring a playfulness to the music. There is some exquisite playing here from both artists and not a little passion in certain of the variations. The joyful Rondo (Allegro) has the atmosphere of two fine artists enjoying themselves. Both seem to enjoy responding to each other with some lovely crisp playing with Wallfisch, often adding a melancholy vein before the end.

The feeling of joy and exuberance is carried into the brilliant Allegro vivace of Sonata No.2 in A major, Op.12 No.2 with, again, these two players responding so well to each other. One cannot help but get swept up in Beethoven’s creative impulse. Towards the end there are some lovely little conversations between the two instruments. In the Andante più tosto allegretto, for the first time in these sonatas, Beethoven allows a greater depth to appear, with the violin of Wallfisch crying out from the bleak sound world of Breitman’s fortepiano. These players bring a subtle rhythmic sway to the Allegro piacevole, again responding to each other so well. There is some especially fine playing in this movement with some lovely, sensitive details exquisitely brought out by both players.

The opening of the Allegro con spirito of Sonata in E flat major, Op.12 No.3 brings some impressive fortepiano playing from Breitman with Wallfisch giving a lovely singing tone to Beethoven’s fine melody. This is a more ambitious movement with many more challenges for the players. Indeed, a contemporary commentator described these sonatas generally as ‘heavily laden with unusual difficulties.’

Often there is real Beethovenian power and thrust from the players as well as some lovely phrasing.

The opening of the Adagio con molt’espressione is beautifully done, again with an intimate feel. These players lead the listener so sensitively through the lovely development of this fine movement, arguably one of Beethoven’s finest early slow movements. There are passionate outbursts from violin and fortepiano towards the end perhaps indicating Beethoven’s troubled nature even at this comparatively early age. The lively Rondo (Allegro molto) brings more, lovely phrasing and spot on precision from these two players, as well as an infectious flow.

Wallfisch and Breitman bring a breath of fresh air to the Presto of Sonata No.4 in A minor, Op.23 with more fine interplay between these artists as well as plenty of brio and rhythmic thrust. In the Andante scherzoso, più allegretto these players bring out all the wit of Beethoven’s writing in this unusual yet strangely captivating movement. The lively Allegro Molto has moments where these players bring such finesse and lovely little details before a taut, musical flow leads to some fabulously fast moving passages brilliantly played.

The Allegro of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5 in F major, Op.24 ‘Spring’ brings a beautifully lyrical outflowing, with Wallfisch and Breitman sharing the lovely melody. These artists bring out all the lively dynamics of the music as well as providing many poetical moments. This is fine music making. What fine sounds there are in the Adagio molto espressivo, lovely colours and hushed timbres from Wallfisch’s instrument with Breitman providing a delightful flow of accompaniment. Molto espressivo this certainly is and with such poetry.

The brief Scherzo (Allegro molto) is crisp and lithe before the Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo) that has such expressive playing. Wallfisch really soars at times in a terrific outflowing of musical invention, superbly realised.

Elizabeth Wallfisch and David Breitman bring a freshness to these sonatas that is entirely beguiling and, as such, make a valuable addition to the catalogue. I will certainly be looking forward to hearing more in this cycle.

They receive an excellent recording that places the performers right in one’s room. The documentation is first rate with photographs of the fortepianos to be used in this series, instrumental details and notes by both performers. 

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