BEETHOVEN: 10 Sonatas for Violin & Piano – Temianka/Shure – Doremi

by | Sep 11, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

BEETHOVEN: The 10 Sonatas for Violin and Piano – Henri Temianka, violin/Leonard Shure, piano – Doremi DHR-8011-3 (3 CDs) 66:00; 68:00; 73:35 (Distr. by Allegro] *****:
Among outstanding 20th Century violin virtuosos, the name of Henri Temianka (1906-1992) still reigns high, a versatile musician whose deep love for chamber music complemented his innate gifts as a solo recitalist and orchestral instrumentalist. In 1980 the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians said of Temianka that he was “…known for his flawless mastery of his instrument, a pure and expressive tone, and forceful yet elegant interpretations.” A pupil of Willy Hess and Carl Flesch, Temianka gained an understanding of his instrument through association with Eugene Ysaye, Jacques Thibaud, and Bronislaw Huberman. In 1945 Temianka made the acquaintance of Elizabeth Coolidge, a noted patron of the arts. She invited Temianka to perform the Beethoven sonata cycle–with Leonard Shure–at the Library of Congress over a course of three evenings: 28 January 1946, 30 January 1946, and 1 February 1946. That same year Temianka founded the Paganini String Quartet as first violin; later, in 1960, he created the California Chamber Symphony, capitalizing on his conducting studies with Artur Rodzinski. A tireless educator and pedagogue, Temianka served as a visiting professor at university venues from Kansas to Osaka, Japan.
I begin my review on a personal note: I met Henri Temianka accidentally, my having attended an all-Bach concert at the Barbican Center in London conducted by Yehudi Menuhin. Temianka introduced himself to me backstage, since I awaited my second meeting with Menuhin. I met Leonard Shure in Atlanta, at the home of Jody Parrish, one of his pupils. Shure presented me with four cassettes of the Library of Congress Beethoven recitals with Henri Temianka, and I transcribed one of them to CD and sent it to Jacob Harnoy. Harnoy persisted in his efforts to procure the originals of these concerts– of dubious and even damaged sound quality–and by a Herculean effort of nine months, has restored these electrifying collaborations to a fine semblance of what the 1946 audience experienced, the genuine throes of musical sympathy.
From the opening moments of the D Major Sonata, Op. 12, No. 1 (28 January 1946), an indisputable electric current runs between the two driven principals, the close sound capturing Temianka’s piercing wiry sound and the clarion peal of Shure’s keyboard. Their respective running passages both challenge and complement each other, and then they declare a temporary truce in legato or cantabile filigree. The Andante Theme and Variations movement suffers no letdown in pulsation or musical acuity. Almost flamboyant in their rococo style, the variants gain ornamentation and aerial finesse. The Rondo dances in equally buoyant style, the upward scales and cadences rife with slashing energy. Shure’s articulation of staccati provide a model of clarity, the line unbroken and a perfect sonic balance for Temianka’s sizzling punctuations. The breezy Allegro vivace that opens the A Major Sonata, Op. 12, No. 2 (1 February 1946) cavorts with raspy impish humor in seamless ensemble.  Temianka’s edgy tone finds a perfect complement in Shure’s equally detached keyboard style. The sweet Andante suffers some intrusive background, possibly an unfortunately indelible sound source in the original tape. Happily, a splice at 1:38 improves the source sound drastically. A genteel facility marks the Allegro piacevole, although Temianka’s occasionally waspish tone stings the ear with charged excitement.
The E-flat Major Sonata, Op. 12, No. 3 (1 February 1946) presents two thoroughly aggressive artists who find in even young Beethoven the bearer of brickbats to traditional forms. Shure’s fluid keyboard presence never ceases to astonish. If the often sizzling pyrotechnics of the Allegro con spirito do not crack the walls of convention, certainly a new and poignant lyricism emerges with Beethoven’s Adagio con molt’espessione, another of his exquisitely songful–a kind of Ave Maria–slow movements from his “Haydn” period. The peppery Rondo combines Haydn and Viotti in a feral mix charged with  visceral energy. The nervous tension Temianka generates reminds us of Ruggiero Ricci, except the polish exhibits even more aristocratic refinement. Beethoven’s A Minor Sonata, Op. 23 (1801) lies at the threshold of his more dramatic “second” period, and Temianka and Shure invest a nervous propulsive energy into its opening Presto, whose huge sweeping gestures and alternately sweet lyricism appeal to these inspired players. The “joking” Andante allows Temianka and Shure (1 February 1946) some contrapuntal display of note; and despite the sometimes “rustic” elements, the music commands a dignified pose. The final Allegro molto has Beethoven consciously parodying elements of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony. Shure performs his scales and brisk runs with effusive élan, while Temianka remain unruffled and even impelled by the sheer welter of notes and voices.
The Op. 23 companion-piece, the F Major Sonata, Op. 24 “Spring” (28 January 1946) unfolds all sugar and light. Lucid, eminently buoyant, and fluidity personified, the music dances and sings under the hands of these two principals, who seem to outdo each other in dazzling flourishes. The slight jabbing figures resolve into a precious dew. The Adagio bestows upon Temianka and Shure yet another opportunity for a floating crystalline world to emerge from their combined sound, the line taut but nobly serene. A winged Scherzo leads to a long-lined Rondo, irreverent and gracious at once. The A Major Sonata, Op. 30, No. 1 (1803) may well be the most elusive of the set emotionally, but its lovely Adagio molto espressivo certainly motives some beguiling ensemble from Temianka and Shure (30 January 1946), the pregnant periods easily pointing to the slow movement in the B-flat Symphony.  Temianka approaches the Allegretto con variazioni in galant style, with Shure’s impetuous urgings in vivid fioritura, mutual bravura at its best. The C Minor Sonata enters the dramatic liturgy of Beethoven’s instrumentally heroic musculature, surely marked by the Piano Concerto in the same key. Temianka and Shure (28 January 1946) project a large scale work, thoroughly balanced in its threatening and consoling gestures, the very stuff that would inspire Schubert. The breadth of the Adagio cantabile alone warrants repeated hearings. The last two movements, as per expectation, dance lithely in often mincing, provocative, surging, or daring figures, each capable of exerting an element of spontaneous grace. The last page burns the asbestos.
The usually genial “Champagne” Sonata No. 8 in G Major, Op. 30, No. 3 from 30 January 1946 gains a decidedly saucy ardor in this collaboration, the Allegro assai’s thrusting a feisty energy more akin to the iconoclastic F Major Symphony, Op. 93 than to any “Classical” model. The Tempo di Menuetto, however, retreats to a more genteel age whose security and noblesse oblige permeate the progression in regal figures. The friendly tussle between the two instruments in the Allegro vivace throws any number of delightful sparks to an audience thoroughly beguiled by the natural sympathy and fire with which this performance abounds. It seemed a natural segue to proceed to the poised affinities of the G Major Sonata, Op. 96 (1 February 1946) rather than to advance chronologically to the ferocious Kreutzer Sonata.  The total self-possession in the Temianka-Shure duo comes to the fore in this late (1812) piece, composed with the especial gifts of violinist Pierre Rode in mind. From the opening trill, the duo’s maintenance of sonic beauty and balanced phrases dominates the musical image. Temianka’s long-lined capacity for delicacy as well as virile energy asserts itself in the Adagio espressivo.
The Scherzo, however, blazes up once more, though briefly, in nervous stabbing figures. To hear the finale—a happy tune with seven variants—given with elastic joie de vivre— comes as no surprise, especially as Temianka and Shure can harness a feral urgency at will.
And it is with that oft-demonic impulse that we savor their A Major Sonata, Op. 47 (30 January 1946) as the culmination of an extraordinary musical journey. The Kreutzer Sonata literally explodes upon the scene, as well it should, this testament–according to Leo Tolstoy–to the destructive tempests of unbridled passion. Temianka’s interior rubato proves irresistible, the rhythmic give and take hurling itself (in A Minor) on the breathlessly fiery embers, as though music could justify suttee. The scale of performance, fully cognizant that Beethoven indicated its “double-concerto” character, remains vast, a grand tour of the Russian steppe or the Harz Mountains. The audience acknowledges the first movement’s heat with brief well-earned applause. The dramatic contrast in the F Major Andante with five variations could hardly be greater, given the degree of serenity Temianka and Shure project. Shure’s transparency of tone deserves note as well, especially in the lighter variants whose ornaments in the keyboard find a pert response in Temianka’s pizzicati. Shure crashes into the spirited Presto finale, intent on spurring Temianka to a virtual flying circus of brilliant tarantella figures in whirlwind colors. Superb!
—Gary Lemco

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