For nearly 40 years, this recording by Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy has been the benchmark for the “Kreutzer” and “Spring” Sonatas. The violinist’s spontaneity and tonal beauty is matched with Ashkenazy’s flexible, precise pianism and together they offer a sense of freshness and discovery.
The “Kreutzer” Sonata, composed in 1802-3, after the Heiligenstadt Testament in which Beethoven wrote of his near-suicidal despair, was dedicated to the violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, a composer of 19 violin concertos. It marks an era of revolution in Beethoven’s music, heard immediately in the dramatic solo violin opening. The intensity is lightened in the following set of variations while the fast, craggy finale is worlds removed from anything Haydn might have dreamt up.
The “Spring” was composed just a couple years earlier, but it represents the opposite pole of Beethoven's expressive world, being lithe and melodic. Perlman and Ashkenazy are a finely balanced duo but not the only strong choice out there. Collectors might also consider versions by Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich (Deutsche Grammophon) and Jascha Heifetz and Benno Moiseiwitsch.
Weigh in on our choice and tell us about your favorite version of these sonatas in the comments below:
Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 5 in F major, Op. 24 "Spring"
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 9 in A major, Op. 47 "Kreutzer"
Available at Arkivmusic.com