Duo Concertante is Nancy Dahn and Timothy Steeves, a married couple of performers in whose lives these Sonatas have for many years been a constant joy. Their shared intimacy with the ten Beethoven Sonatas is what sets this recording apart from the crowded field of better known but ad hoc partners who have recorded Beethoven’s complete oeuvre in recent years.
The A-list of competitors would have to feature Leonidas Kavakos/Enrico Pace, Renaud Capuçon and Frank Braley, Midori Seiler and Jos van Immerseel, Cédric Tiberghien and Alina Ibragimova. My own reference work is by David Oistrakh and Lev Oborin, originally recorded on vinyl, remastered and still selling.
However, when I heard Duo Concertante had entered the field, I wanted to check their recent work against my memory of hearing them live in 2008 playing the sparkling E-flat major, Op. 12, No.3. I was touched back then by the transparent ease and unhindered flow their collaboration afforded the lyric elements of the piece—the expressiveness of their Adagio and the energetic surge of their final movement.
The strengths of Duo Concertante’s current undertaking is an emotional openess to Beethoven’s range of moods, evident from the opening Allegro of the E flat Sonata Op. 12 No 3. The Duo’s stylings are expressive without ornament, their tempos carefully chosen and their timing perfectly synched. During the Andante of the A minor, Op. 23, they go a bit out of their usual balance, Dahn’s violin lacking fire, and Steeve’s piano, as if compensating, a bit bolder than need be. His forcefulness tended to bring a bit too much thunder, even for Beethoven, to the closing bars of several movements.
They chose unique tempi for their “Kreutzer,” taking the first movement slower than most, which I enjoyed, and speeding up the second and third without sacrificing the dramatic intensity. In a work of that length there were times when I found Dahn’s intonation a bit grittier than I like, but that may be where our taste for the discord of passion differs.
In Op. 96 in G Major all discord dissolves. The voices of piano and violin echo tender imitations of each other’s motifs, and there is magic in the flow. Steeve’s piano is mellifluous, softly dark in the Allegro; Dahn’s violin in the Adagio has the indulgent sweetness of an old uncle’s smile. The Finale moves surefootedly from tripping triple meters towards a dreamy “Elvira Madigan” kind of melody that Duo Concertante lift and send swirling to the end of time.
I am glad to have this intimate set in my collection.