Berkhemer and Mann Unparalleled in Early Beethoven Sonatas.

Thumbnail Image 1

On the 3rd of December around the corner from the aptly named Beethoven Street in Amsterdam a select audience huddled into the hall of the Brahms Street Auditorium to hear the first recital of a complete cycle of the Beethoven violin sonatas with violinist Joan Berkhemer and pianist Robert Mann. In preparation for their upcoming recording of the cycle the duo are presenting the sonatas in concert throughout the 2015/16 season. We were treated to the first three of the ten sonatas op.12 numbers 1 to 3, all written in 1798 and dedicated to Antonio Salieri who taught Beethoven vocal composition in the Italian style. The youthful vigour and humour in the outer movements is often reminicent of the young Beethoven’s other mentor Franz Joseph Haydn.The melodic invention of late Mozart is never far away in the slow middle movements of these sonatas especially in the incomparable Adagio con molto expressione of the third sonata in E-flat major. Berkhemer and Mann through three decades of partnership show great rapport in their collaborative artistry.

Mann’s glowing and well balanced tone is never dominant yet his lines are always beautifully phrased and inventive. The piano is richly complimented by Berkhemer’s spontaneous, humorous and often lyrical approach on the violin. Berkhemer’s playing is of a grace and charm that reminds one of the violinists of the golden age. His tone sings with a beauty that resembles Fritz Kreisler’s yet the wit and charm of his approach to these early Beethoven Sonatas keeps them fresh and lively. The first movement of the second sonata in A major was played with a boyish lilt and dance-llike ardour full of inventive dialogue between the partners while the contrasting Andante carried the listener from the realms of Italian art-song to the introspective and philosophical meanderings of a Beethoven more akin to the composer of the late great string quartets.

Among their numerous appealing qualities, the Berkhemer-Mann duo balances an insightful and philosophical approach to Beethoven with an inspired and piquant spontaneity giving us the best of both worlds in these formidable performances. I can only hope that we will hear much more of this kind of stirring music making from these musicians in the future.

Emlyn Stam, 2015.