Well into his 20s (in an era when the average life expectancy was still under 40), Ludwig van Beethoven was still defiantly showing off to his elders, at least to judge from critics of the time. “Overly exuberant inspiration,” remembered one. Beethoven “pile[s] up ideas without restraint,” wrote another, “as to bring about an obscure artificiality.” “It is undeniable that Mr. van Beethoven goes his own way,” admitted one critic. “But what a bizarre, laborious way!” That judgment was on Beethoven’s Op. 12 Violin Sonatas, which opened violinist Corey Cerovsek and pianist Paavali Jumppanen’s Sunday recital at the Gardner Museum, the first concert of a survey of all of Beethoven’s exercises in that genre. The duo created a contemporary analog of that brashness.
Cerovsek and Jumppanen previously performed the cycle at the Gardner during the 2003-04 season and recorded the sonatas in 2007. It's fair to say that they know this repertoire inside and out, and how they want it to go. On Sunday it went in high gear, whipping through the music’s turns with elegant relentlessness. There was some sonic contrast: Jumppanen’s opalescent clarity and imperturbable evenness of touch setting the table for Cerovsek’s more laser-like tone, polished into precise phrases. But both players pursued momentum — rhythms were fleet and unflagging, the notes following each other with the irrevocability of an epic domino tumble.