Austria Beethoven: Kristian Bezuidenhout (piano), Viktoria Mullova (violin), Grand Concert Hall Mozarteum, Salzburg, 11.8.2011 (JFL)
L.v. Beethoven: Violin Sonatas opp.12/3, 23, 47
Recital • Mullova & Bezuidenhout
J.S.Bach, Sonatas & Partitas,
W.G.Mozart, Keyboard Music vol.2,
The many variables of music-performance mean that it is difficult to predict the success of a concert. Some fulfill or exceed low expectations, others meet or exceed high ones, some merely disappoint mildly. And then there are absolutely tantalizing programs that fall flat on their face. On paper, Viktoria Mullova performing Beethoven sonatas together with Kristian Bezuidenhout, was such a tantalizing proposition. The latter is one of my favorite forte-pianists (on record). Mullova, known for her exacting standards and as of late with an interesting approach to historical performance, would usually be a treat, also. Her 2009 Bach on the Onyx label, after initially failing to raise my eyebrows, turned on closer inspection (review here) out to be one of the most compelling recordings of the Sonatas and Partitas.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. Performing Beethoven’s fourth and third sonatas, opp.23 and 12/3, in the first half, the feeling was one of befuddlement. Either I was missing something crucial, or it really was only a so-so performance. Exaggeratedly shortened phrases purposely, intriguingly matched the quick decay Bezuidenhout’s 1820’s Conrad Graf fortepiano, but sounded awfully harsh, with a dull edge. With Mullova’s instrument’s tangy and dark tone—squeezed and boxy in the frantically fast first movement of op.12/3—all three Beethoven sonatas were utterly de-sentimentalized, which might have been interesting but was marred by pitch and intonation problems, most of it on the considerably flat side.
Bezuidenhout, sensitive and witty, tickled wonderful facets of the music out of his instrument: here a phrase in a new light, there a quick melody one isn’t used to hearing like that. If true joy never settled in—despite a very considerably improved Kreutzer Sonata (op.47) in the second half—it wasn’t his fault. The way he played a virtual duet with her pizzicatos and his trills was a brief moment of utter delight. Just not enough in a program that felt like Mullova and Bezuidenhout are still at the very beginning of their partnership in exploring Beethoven.
Jens F. Laurson