The young musicians couldn’t have been better partners, joining in a stunning force of emotive power, and setting a degree of excellence as fine as many of us had ever heard in this hall. While taken collectively, Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas do not represent the entire span of the composer’s life − the last was published 15 years before his death – they are nevertheless unwaveringly inviting, perhaps no less so because Beethoven scored the two instruments as absolute equals.

Julia Fischer © Felix Broede
Julia Fischer
© Felix Broede
This equal rights convention − while hardly the sonata “norm” − raises the “Kreutzer” to what one musicologist calls a “concerto for two”. Published as the composer’s Op.47, it embraces a huge range of moods and melodies, consistently putting tremendous technical demands on the players. It was originally dedicated to the gifted violinist George Bridgewater who, almost incredibly, sight-read his part at the work’s première in 1803, Beethoven himself at the piano. Furious at the violinist’s criticism of one of his close female friends, Beethoven later withdrew Bridgewater’s name, dedicating the sonata instead to violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, who never actually performed it, and had little to say of it beyond that was "outrageously unintelligible”.

Fortunately, Julia Fischer and Igor Levit proved something else entirely. After a sustained, lyrical beginning “for the sake of the single verse”, Fischer opened the fireworks of sound and complex clusters, maintaining absolute precision in the Adagio despite her almost warp speed. Her green silk gown moved with her as she played, and that with the poise, presence and elegance of a dancer. In the second movement, Andante con variationen the musicians passed melodies back and forth between them in a much quieter form of dialogue, Levit’s hands barely ever leaving the keyboard. The variations themselves contrasted as widely as from an otherworldly tinkling tone to the almost “digital” sound of Fischer’s pizzicato. The final Presto began with a powerful piano chord; apart from a handful of contrasting episodes, which even included an unexpected moment of sustained silence, the musicians seamlessly exchanged their instruments’ expressions of exuberance and joyousness at a thoroughbred’s tempo.

Levit’s physical interpretation was equally remarkable. His recovery from a given chord or attack often included a spontaneous gesture: a cupped hand momentarily poised in mid-air, a seeming sprinkling of a fine dust, a thwack of his palms down at his sides. In more turbulent passages, he almost jumped up twice from the seat. But what I liked best was the “C” figure his body made as he leaned down and over the keys, his nose often a mere six inches from the notes. The curve/straight alteration of that bench gesture made a strong visual pulse that nicely reflected the acoustical body.

Igor Levit © Felix Broede
Igor Levit
© Felix Broede

After the break, the two played the “Tenth” violin sonata in G major, Op.96, a sonata in four movements that dates from the end of 1812. Levit was sometimes a little too boisterous for my taste here; at one point, I lost the sound of the violin to it entirely. The Tenth has always taken accolades for its “calm, ethereal beauty,” and Fischer entered a profoundly lyrical conversation with that sensation. Perfectly attuned to Levit’s piano, she cultivated a question/answer, question/answer exchange that highlighted her violin’s creamy tonality, and imparted a delightful joie de vivre. Her control of volume was perfect, particularly when the variations brought the violin into its lower registers. Her fine instrument gave us a range as far from something spunky and animated to a palpable elegance, and that, with the same “mysterious beauty of a Sphinx” that musicologist Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen cites in the programme notes.

Fischer was apt to lean over Levit’s shoulder, or boldly face the audience, swinging her violin as if it were her partner on the ballroom floor. Commendably, though, there was no drama for drama’s sake: she never used a gesture that wasn’t justified, and was totally in charge of her repertoire, committing this sonata – as she did every one of the others – to flawless memory. The two final sonatas in the Beethoven cycle demanded the highest degree of technical competence from both players. That said, our extraordinary luck was that both Fischer and Levit clearly had full confidence in a configuration based on “equal footing", and together, gave us sonatas nothing short of superbly played. In short, if this musical pair isn’t a match made in Heaven, I don’t know what is.