CD Reviews: Catherine Leonard, Hugh Tinney
To say that Catherine Leonard and Hugh Tinney make the mighty Kreutzer Sonata sound easy is not to diminish the accomplishment of their performance. Quite the contrary, in fact, given that the work’s dedicatee, the virtuoso French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, refused to play it because he thought it too difficult and ‘outrageously unintelligible’.
Described by the composer in his first outline of the work as ‘almost like a concerto’, the Kreutzer is not a work to be approached lightly (by audience or performers) given the demanding intricacy of the interplay between violin and piano and, not least, Beethoven’s own copiously detailed articulation and dynamic markings.
A work full of vigorously described character fuelled by a compelling dramatic impulse (sufficiently so to prompt Tolstoy to write his celebrated novella and, in turn, Janácek to compose a string quartet with the same title), the Kreutzer prompts playing of pointed, precisely framed intensity and vivid, perfectly balanced reciprocity from Tinney and Leonard.
They are deftly conscious of the imposing arc of the work, too – the opening slow section of the first movement is hushed and poised, the central set of variations shot through with improvisatory energy and a ravishing acuity of expression, with the magisterial finale suitably muscular and full-blooded.
The earlier Spring Sonata receives treatment of an altogether appropriately different mien: sweetly elegant, lightly effusive and set down with a dancing nimbleness that captivates from start to finish.
The fleetly delivered, in places engagingly jocular, interplay of instrumental voices in the opening movement gets proceedings off to a fine start, with the mellow, almost Mozartian simplicity of the following Adagio touchingly realised before the Scherzo sparks into bright staccato life to be topped only by the joyful good spirits of the concluding rondo.
Tinney and Leonard bring a similar irrepressible spirit to the youthful G major Rondo and to Fritz Kreisler’s lightly vivacious Rondino on a Theme of Beethoven. Happily, the unexpected coupling also solves an historic riddle by identifying the original source for the later, hitherto cleverly disguised homage.
Especially striking about the performances on this highly attractive disc is the beguiling intimacy, quiet authority, meticulous attention to detail and carefully measured charm that Leonard and Tinney bring to bear throughout. Borne out of a long-time and much admired partnership in the recital hall, the pair achieve an accomplished transition to disc and make one eager to encourage more recordings from an established partnership that clearly has the promise of even greater things to come in the future.
Gary Cole and Phil Cooke’s beautifully proportioned recording in the warm, chamber-like acoustic of St Peter’s Church, Drogheda adds its own contribution to the many pleasures of this welcome disc.
Published on 1 September 2007
Michael Quinn is a freelance music and theatre journalist based in Co. Down.