Session Report: A meeting at the crossroads

Podger 6 (c)Andrew Wilkinson

For violinist Rachel Podger and pianist Christopher Glynn, recording Beethoven’s violin sonatas, which occupy the stormy transitional period between Classicism and Romanticism, brought together their disparate musical specialisms, as they tell Harry White

Despite completing nine sonatas for violin and piano by 1803, before he’d turned 33, Beethoven did not write his final offering in the genre – the elliptical op.96 – until 1812. Between an early, compressed fever of productivity and this, the last vestige of the composer’s ‘middle period’, Beethoven had risen from restless Classicism through titanic heroism and towards the more profound musical utterances that were to define his final years. Yet the ten violin sonatas that bookend this evolution remain a coherent collection, unified by Beethoven’s desire to create what was later described by music critic and writer Louis Biancolli as ‘a colloquy of reciprocal enrichment’.

‘So much of Beethoven’s musical language is still shocking to us today, even though we’re familiar with contemporary music and have probably been shocked many times since,’ says Rachel Podger, who has recorded sonatas nos.1, 5 and 10 with pianist Christopher Glynn. ‘It shocks because Beethoven’s musical language is embedded in the Classical style of his time (however Romantic it might sound), and his spirit of adventure and daring to push the boundaries of this style makes his music sound and feel fresh and revolutionary, even two centuries later.’

Glynn believes it is this constant quest for new horizons that makes Beethoven such an enduring composer for recording artists, even today. ‘The level of his innovation and the sheer greatness of his achievements mean that there’s so much to find for musicians,’ he says. ‘It’s a never-ending journey.’

Recording Beethoven symbolises a meeting in the middle for both musicians. For Podger, it is a shift forwards from her established repertoire of the Baroque, galant  and early Classical periods, while for Glynn, it’s something of a backward glance from the later Romanticism of Schubert and beyond, where he has been most at home…

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