Two of England’s most stylistically aware musicians come together for the first volume in a new Beethoven cycle. I constantly nod in agreement with what Martin Roscoe does at the keyboard, but my reaction to former Lindsay, Peter Cropper’s playing is more complicated.
Life is not fair to violinists. Given a good tuner, a pianist can sound marvellous at any age. The years subtract little niggling amounts from a violinist’s capability and the question is: does his musicianship make up the deficit? In the present case, yes and no. Character, vigour, rhythmic drive and the perceptions of experience are here in abundance, at least in the first two sonatas. I would like both more and less: more variation in colour for repeated material, less underlining of points that Beethoven has already made clear.
A trivial example is the first violin phrase of the theme in the D major’s central movement. Cropper stresses the difference between the joined-up first half and the broken-up second half. Myriad such moments make for a feeling of ‘Here we go again’ as the programme proceeds, although the Adagio of the C minor is done very well.
In the G major I feel short-changed. The opening is timid and a striving for expression holds back progress in the first movement, despite well-defined rhythm and nice quiet playing. The Adagio does not ‘happen’ for me, although Cropper is clearly trying hard, with very soft, sustained phrases. The Scherzo is fine but the finale alternates between enervating restraint and outbursts of energy.
I am provoked to thought but my preference remains with Suk–Panenka (Supraphon) or Dumay–Pires (DG). The ASV recordings are quite good.