Weekend vote: What is your favorite performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata?

September 11, 2022, 4:53 PM · A recent discussion thread caught my eye in which the poster wondered about the "best" performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. The Kreutzer (Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47) is noted for its technical difficulty, extreme length, and dramatic requirements. It was ultimately dedicated to violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, composer of not only 19 violin concertos and 40 operas, but also those etudes we all know and love.

Kreutzer
"The Kreutzer Sonata" by René-Xavier Prinet, 1901, and the music for the sonata.

Rather than focusing on the "best," please focus on the performance that appeals most to you. Is it, perhaps, the rendition by violinist Zino Francescatti and pianist Robert Marcel Casadesus? Or how about Yuhudi Menuhin and his sister Hephzibah? Or Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Fazil Say? Szigeti and Bartok? Joshua Bell and Yuja Wang. Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis. And, as one commenter points out, don’t forget Milstein/Pludermacher! Oh, the list goes on and on.


Inspired by the thread, I’ll list some v.com poster choices in the vote, as well as a few of my own. But please select "Other" if you have another favorite and then let us know why this rendition particularly appeals to you in the comments section.

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Replies

September 12, 2022 at 03:08 AM · Of those that you posted I definitely preferred Zino Francescatti and pianist Robert Marcel Casadesus. However, my favorite by far is the Pinchas Zuckerman/Marc Neikrug recording.

September 12, 2022 at 05:25 AM ·

David Oistrakh, with Lev Oborin at the piano. Really amazing!

I have Oistrakh and Oborin playing all the Beethoven sonatas on both vinyl and CD.

I very much like many of the sonatas performed by Isaac Stern and Eugene Istomin. But Oistrakh and Oboring playing the Kreutzer really stands out. I like them playing Sonata #5 (Spring) and Sonata #10 as well.

September 12, 2022 at 01:27 PM · Oistrakh / Oborin but also Repin / Argerich (!!)

September 12, 2022 at 03:52 PM · Love the Kopatchinskaja/Say performance, but one of the first ones I found while searching for inspiration on Youtube (having decided to have a go at the work myself) was by Randall Goosby and pianist Zhu Wang, and it became my first love, so I voted 'other'. Maybe the interpretation is a bit more conventional than K/S, but it's beautiful:

September 12, 2022 at 05:33 PM · I am adding Zuckerman/Neikrug, Oistrakh/Oborin, and Repin/Argerich to my list to listen to tonight. I started the opening of Goosby and it is indeed beautiful, Margaret! (Looking forward to listening to his entire performance later.)

September 12, 2022 at 06:37 PM · The Kreutzer Sonata has inspired so much art in other genres - the story by Tolstoy (The Kreutzer Sonata) - and that, in turn, inspired the painting above.

It is interesting to see so many takes on it!

September 12, 2022 at 07:22 PM · Thanks for bringing about this comparison question, Diane! So much food for thought.

September 12, 2022 at 07:54 PM · The Kreutzer Sonata inspires all violinists to practice their Kreutzer etudes in the hope of one day performing this particularly beautiful piece.

Repin-Argerich sounds like a winning combination. I'll look that one up for sure. As the student of the piano (also), I have long admired Martha Argerich for the deftness of her touch and the scope and power of her artistry.

September 12, 2022 at 10:20 PM · Diana - thanks for drawing the threads of the 'Kreutzer' discussion together here. I have listened to most of the recordings proposed here, and plan to find time for the more recent posts/mentions. In fact, I have listened to nothing else for about a week. So far, I have found plenty to like in all of them, which reflects on Beethoven's excellent sonata.

I hope it is not seen as cluttering the field, but I really want to put forward another performance which was unknown to me previously. It is an HIP version, by Yury Revich on a loaned Stradivarius and Fiorenzo Pascalucci on a fortepiano. They give some idea of the sound Beethoven would have had in mind and heard: slightly more controversial are the ornamentations and short cadenzas they introduce, which, on reflection I feel are quite legitimate, given Beethoven's fame as an improviser, and after all, the 'Kreutzer' comes from the age of bel canto, Donizetti et al.

The accompanying notes (please read!) remind us of the original dedication to the Black violinist George Bridgetower, whose immediate origins may have been on the island of Barbados. It seems particularly apt that this Blog should be adjacent to Laurie's note on Rachel Barton Pine's recording of Violin Concertos by Black Composers, and I am hastily adding that I hadn't noticed earlier that Randall Goosby's performance acknowledges the first violinist to play the sonata. Bravo!

September 13, 2022 at 12:45 AM · Paul, I cracked out the etudes tonight with exactly that hope!

Richard, no cluttering whatsoever! This is a find and I truly loved it. (The pianist was dazzling as well.) And I appreciate your comments about the connection amongst Bridgetower, Rachel Barton Pine's recent album, the dedication of Revich's performance, and Goosby's acknowledgement. Quite wonderful.

September 13, 2022 at 03:39 AM · I voted for Kopatchinskaja/Say because I admire the thought and courage that went into that interpretation... she has an article on it on her website. I like her playing very much and her idea that music to be beautiful doesn't always need to be pretty. That said, I enjoy listening to their Kreutzer Sonate, but my go to interpretation is that of Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov.

September 13, 2022 at 11:59 AM · Katherine: Well said! And you've given me another duo to check out (Faust/Melnikov)! Thank you!

September 13, 2022 at 03:21 PM · There is a recording with Perlman and Ashkenazy which I like very much. It has the relentless drive that the music requires.

That said: To me the Kreutzer is not the most appealing of Beethoven's sonata; op. 94 is (indeed most of them rank higher to my taste). it is certainly unique and that makes it interesting (and famous) but not necessarily appealing.

September 13, 2022 at 11:27 PM · The Janacek First String Quartet “Kreutzer Sonata” is based on the Tolstoy novella.

Other recommended recordings of the Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata: Henryk Szeryng & Arthur Rubinstein, Nathan Milstein & Artur Balsam, Josef Suk & Jan Panenka and a film of the 2nd movement with Efrem Zimbalist & Harold Bauer.

There is an arrangement for string orchestra of the Beethoven by Richard Tognetti, leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The Knights recently recorded an orchestra arrangement of the Janacek quartet.

Enjoy!

September 14, 2022 at 01:46 AM · Great recommendations, Albrecht and David! (I love Szeryng!)

September 14, 2022 at 02:57 AM · To me the Kopatchinskaja performance sounds like she's just trying to be different. She's super skilled, but I'm not moved at all. I voted for Szigeti / Bartok. Just listen to the opening chords - it sounds like an angel singing. There are many great interpretations, and I generally prefer Kreisler for Beethoven, but to me it doesn't get better than Szigeti here.

September 14, 2022 at 03:05 AM · There are a couple of Kogan performances to choose from, but this is pretty fantastic with Grigory Ginzburg

September 14, 2022 at 11:40 AM · Although I can justifiably be accused of favoritism, my favorite recording is my dad Julien Musafia at the piano and Henri Temianka on the violin, recorded live in 1970. The last movement is what fueled my desire to practice violin for many years, starting at age 8, although things for me would eventually take a different turn.

September 14, 2022 at 04:38 PM · I am with Katherine - my money is on the Isabelle Faust/Alexander Melnikov recordings. I will buy anything with Faust playing. I am also quite fond of the Augustin Dumay/Maria João Pires (Deutsche Grammophon) recordings. For older versions I have tended towards Wolfgang Schneiderhan/Wilhelm Kempff (Deutsche Grammophon).

September 15, 2022 at 11:55 AM · Gabriel, Szigeti/Bartok is wonderful! Here's the first movement:

Christian, I love the Ginzburg! Thanks for posting the clip.

Dimitri, Your story is amazing, as is your father's playing! Unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip of him with Temianka, but did find some wonderful solo clips!

Dawson, Thank you (and Katherine) for the Faust/Melnikov vote. Here they are playing the first movement.

September 16, 2022 at 11:02 AM · @Diana, thank you! Here you can hear the first movement of the Spring sonata. My dad and Henri recorded all 10 sonatas in just two sessions live in L.A. that year. Cheers!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3rx1008A68

September 17, 2022 at 12:04 AM · Dimitri, What a wonderful movie! Bravo! And the soundtrack with your father and Henri was absolutely amazing. It positively sparkles! Thank you!

September 18, 2022 at 08:54 AM · Diane, thank you so much! :-)

It's of course a promo video, but I had a lot of fun putting it together. It was a real challenge too: the second part was filmed before the first part, which thanks to the pandemic was completed about a year later.

The lighting inside the villa was dismal, so I had to follow the camerman with a spotlight, and the garden was overrun by mosquitos. It was difficult to film inside a theater where you can hear the orchestra tuning but there wasn't one present. Oh and BTW, I do a Hitchcock-esque cameo at 3:36!

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