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Insightful artists explore Beethoven sonata cycle

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MONTE BELKNAP and BARBARA ALLEN, Madsen Recital Hall, Brigham Young University, Provo, Friday.

PROVO — Beethoven's 10 violin sonatas run the gamut of expression — from classical eloquence to romantic passion. They explore every facet of violin writing and intricate instrumental interplay. They also span a large segment of Beethoven's creative output — the first three (op. 12) are from the time of the first two piano concertos, while the last one (op. 96) stems from the period that saw the creation of the "Archduke" Piano Trio and the "Serioso" String Quartet.

With the wealth of material and creative inventiveness that are exhibited in the 10 violin sonatas, it's almost a pity that Beethoven didn't continue with the form into his last period — one can only speculate what he might have done. One needs to look only at the magnificence of the last string quartets to imagine what Beethoven might have penned for violin and piano in the last years of his life.

The violin sonatas demand the utmost from the performers in terms of technique and musicality. Even though written over a relatively short period of time (approximately 15 years), they represent a tremendous stylistic change and maturation. As such, performers undertaking these works need a perceptive grasp of the music and an understanding of these works in relation to Beethoven's other compositions.

Violinist Monte Belknap and pianist Barbara Allen are two such insightful artists. The Brigham Young University faculty members are in the midst of performing the complete cycle of violin sonatas over the course of three recitals in three months.

Last Friday, they presented their second program in BYU's Madsen Recital Hall. As with their first recital last month, Belknap and Allen displayed a remarkably lucid musical collaboration that was all the more impressive for its fine balance, subtle interplay and eloquently phrased playing that captured all the nuances and finely colored shadings in each work.

And as with the first recital, Friday's was also characterized by the thoughtfulness of the works chosen to be played. Juxtaposing the first sonata (in D major, op. 12, no. 1) with the last (in G major, op. 96) in the first half and rounding out the program with No. 7 (in C minor, op. 30, no. 2), the evening was a wonderfully rich and vibrant musical experience for the capacity audience in the hall.

Opening with the D major sonata, Belknap and Allen played this early work with classical precision, clarity, articulation and well-delineated phrases. It was an understated reading that was nevertheless dynamic.

Unlike what one might expect from a work written in Beethoven's middle period, the G major sonata is devoid of any bold dramatic gestures. Instead, it is captivatingly lyrical throughout its four movements. And the duo made the most of this, playing with exquisite poetic expressiveness.

The C minor sonata is only one of two that Beethoven wrote in a minor key. From the tempestuousness of the outer movements and the kinetic energy of the scherzo to the almost delicate expressiveness of the adagio, this sonata allows the performers to let loose. And Belknap and Allen gave a wondrously compelling and dramatic reading of this work — bold, impassioned and, above all, sincere and earnest.

E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com