I discovered the Beethoven Sonatas for Violin and Piano via Youtube recordings – Anne-Sophie Mutter and renowned pianist Lambert Orkis recorded the cycle of 10 works back in 1998 at a series of live concerts in Paris. The album that resulted won a Grammy in 2000, and somehow, about 8 years ago, the whole series of recordings made its way onto the video sharing platform. I’m not sure what the copyright implications are, but they have been viewed millions of times, and not infrequently by yours truly.
More than 20 years later, the famous duo is still performing these masterpieces together – this past Wednesday I had the pleasure of hearing them play numbers Four, Five, and Nine at Chicago’s Symphony Center as part of our chamber music subscription. The concert was part of the symphony’s celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday this season – the dizzying array of the composer’s works programmed for the season includes all ten of these sonatas being celebrated by a variety of world-class violinists and pianists.
Sonatas number Five (Spring) and Nine (Kreutzer) are some of my very favorite pieces for the violin. Prior to last Wednesday, my live experience with the pieces was hearing Perlman play Five at the Lyric Opera with Rohan DeSilva and Nine at Symphony Center with Evgeny Kissin. I have also heard Joshua Bell play Nine at Symphony Center with pianist Sam Haywood. When the current season’s lineup was released last summer I was thrilled to learn that my favorite, Anne-Sophie, was set to perform my favorites, and in one concert. I was further excited because though I’ve seen her several times before, I have never seen her perform with Orkis, her pianist partner of decades.
The program opened with Sonata Number Four, composed in 1800 for Beethoven’s patron Count Moritz von Fries (to whom the 7th symphony is also dedicated). According the program notes by Richard Rodda, it’s likely this sonata and the one that follows, Number Five, were composed as a complementary pair. Though Beethoven wanted them released together as Opus 23, a publishing error resulted in separate publications – Op. 23 and Op. 24.
From their opening notes, Mutter and Lambert’s fusion of the best of what violins and pianos can do is apparent. If finishing sentences is a way of demonstrating deep knowledge of others, these two manage to alternate every word of every sentence seamlessly. Their ability to keep these pieces fresh after performing them for decades is a testament to their lifetime of pursuing greatness – there is no resting on laurels here.
The second movement of the 1803 Kreutzer Sonata, Number Nine, contains some of the most beautiful stuff written for my instrument – the colors Mutter pulls from her Stradivarius are extraordinary. After our standing ovation, Mutter and Orkis returned to the stage for a couple of encores – a Beethoven piece for a mechanical clock, and a John Williams piece written specifically for Anne-Sophie Mutter, which she had just premiered in Europe a few days prior. It was fun to hear Anne-Sophie speak from the stage to introduce the encores, the first time I’ve heard her voice in person.
I’m so lucky to live a couple of blocks from one of the world’s best classical music venues.
Thanks for reading.