Violinist Susanna Ogata is a tenured member of the Handel and Haydn Society. Keyboard player Ian Watson has had a long and distinguished career as an organist, conductor and as a director of early music, recently working with Harry Christophers and The Sixteen on a new edition of Bach’s St Mark Passion. In that same year, Watson and Ogata embarked on a project to record all ten of Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas on period instruments, and this release on The Sixteen’s Coro label is the first recording.
First up: Sonata No 4 in A Minor, Op. 23 (1801), and Sonata No 9 in A, Op. 47, the famous ‘Kreutzer’ from 1803. Watson plays a replica of an Anton Walter (1752-1826) Viennese fortepiano (both Mozart and Beethoven played Walters) while Ogata performs on a Joseph Klotz violin from 1772. It’s a remarkable sound world into which the listener is plunged and, given Watson and Ogata’s rigorous research, it is one we can assume to be similar to that inhabited by the composer himself. The sinewy violin lines are transformed by the deeper but slightly coarser and more nasal tone of the period instrument, making them noticeably more penetrating; this is particularly so when the violin is plucked, producing an extremely percussive result.
Beethoven’s chords, meanwhile, are a revelation on the fortepiano – reverberant, rich, sonorous, and somewhat muddier than a later/standard piano. The results are marvellous, and all the more interesting if this is what Beethoven was trying to achieve (as András Schiff has argued elsewhere). The performances are electrifying – vigorous, sharp and unstoppably energetic. This is an exciting addition to the considerable catalogue of famous recordings of these works.