BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major; FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A Major – Sidney Weiss, violin/ Jeanne Weiss, p. – Crystal Records

BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47; FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A Major – Sidney Weiss, violin/ Jeanne Weiss, p. – Crystal Records CD881, 59:57 [www.crystalrecords.com] (2/17/14) ****:

Sidney Weiss (b. 1929) served as concertmaster of several prestigious ensembles: the Chicago Symphony (1967-1972); the Monte Carlo Philharmonic (1973-1979); the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1979-1994); and became Music Director of the Glendale Symphony Orchestra, 1997-2002. A maker of his own instruments, Weiss performs the two sonata inscribed here, in 1969 (Franck) and 1971 (Beethoven) on a violin he created in 1965. The performances derive from Kimball Hall, Chicago and they were recorded by Norman Pellegrini.

The Beethoven “Kreutzer” Sonata has all the ingredients of a first-rate performance: the Adagio sostenuto opens with a blazing cadenza figure from Sidney Weiss, soon answered in potent chords at measure 4 from Jeanne Weiss. The ensuing Presto possesses demonic propulsion and stylized glamour, the two principals in constant conjunction and flawless digital acceleration in eighth notes. 

Perhaps even more impressive is their Andante con Variazioni movement in F Major, in which each successive progression and permutation of the theme in four variants seem to extend a pungently candid argument. Never do we forget that this potent music of 1803 inspired Tolstoy to conceive of its lying at the core of a fatal passion. The intrinsic balance between the two instruments, in bravura technique and poetic expression reminds this auditor of the musical consensus we hear from Nathan Milstein and Artur Balsam. The wild tarantella Presto: Finale in 6/8 begins on the piano’s A Major chord, and it’s off to the races or the thunderbolts, as you will. The Weiss violin verily slices through the filigree and never ceases dancing as it sings, particularly in the adagio version of the main tune. Pianist Weiss has her own hurdles in running figures and galloping staccati, but the challenges ever translate into music of expressive and volatile power. The buoyant energy of the ensemble and its realization of Beethoven’s unfettered spirit make this a rendition to treasure.

The sonic patina for the Franck Sonata in A proves particularly resonant, well suited to the Weiss violin, which may remind some of Arthur Grumiaux. The opening cell, of course, infiltrates the breadth of the entire work, a masterful example of cyclic form. Weiss maintains a firm hand on his dynamic as required, since Franck indicates the executants to play molto dolce, sempre dolce, et dolcissimo. The micing of the piano may seem a bit distant, but the sonorities of both instruments mesh into a rapture of impassioned intimacy, recalling that Franck meant the work as wedding present for Eugen Ysaye.

Any remnant of the Allegretto disappears with the onset of the tumultuous Allegro, marked passionato.  Sidney Weiss projects an upward movement in the music’s driving, even searching rhetoric, suddenly dispelled in the contrasting, declamatory section that recalls the opening germ motif. The coda of this movement simply blazes with unencumbered heat. The most inventive movement, the Recitativo-Fantasia, combines the passionate motif with an improvisatory but firmly-driven filigree that obviously enthralls both principals. Perhaps the most famous canon in octaves in violin history, the Allegretto poco mosso restores a Baroque form to the proceedings, one measure’s separating the two voices. Stately as well poetically inflected, the music evolves, dolce cantabile, as a testament to emotionally tender clarity.  The masterly intertwining fo former themes, each a permutation of the original cell motif, only adds to the splendid sense of emotional closure this performance has educed.

This disc presents old wine refreshed enough to convince even the most “hardened” veteran that these works can still generate sincere passion.

—Gary Lemco

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