I have been an ardent admirer of Schneiderhan's artistry since I heard three of his Beethoven sonata performances many years ago on a double-play cassette. I never expected that this entire cycle with Karl Seeman would resurface on CD--but, lo and behold, here it is, sounding better than it did on cassette (though, regrettably, not by much).
Schneiderhan was a formidable technician with a searching intellect and a distinctively sweet, though never cloying, tone. He always placed musical values ahead of virtuosity for its own sake. Becuase he shunned glamor, he never quite made it to cult status. Today his reputation rests on his numerous recordings for DG, nearly all of which have been praised by critics since they were first issued. His Mozart concerto cycle remains one of the two or three finest ever recorded.
Much the same can be said of his two Beethoven sonata cycles. The first, in mono, with Kempff is the more idiosyncratic, largely due to the pianist, whose poised and, at times, effete pianism blends less effectively with Schneiderhan's incisiveness than Karl Seeman's more straightforward manner in the later, stereo cycle. The earlier set is also compromised by somewhat muffled, airless sonics, though the later one is by no means ideally recorded: the piano is balanced somewhat backwardly in relation to the violin (a besetting sin of duo-sonata recordings during the early-LP era) and there are patches of slightly distorted tone at higher dynamic levels and in higher registers.
On balance, however, I prefer the stereo cycle with Seeman, largely because the pianist shares Schneiderhan's trenchant approach to these works. There are no wasted gestues or agogic distortions, and Beethoven's seemingly inexhaustible invention comes through unimpeded by any excess of interpretation. Though the "Spring" and one or two of the earlier sonatas could do with a bit more of Beethoven's characteristically "unbuttoned" humor, it is better that this music be accorded to much rather than too little seriousness of purpose. The "Kreuzer" and Opus 96 are given absolutely splendid readings, the former with just the right amount of wild abandon and the latter with attention to the sublimity of Beethoven's conception.
Overall this is an outstanding set. Beethoven is rarely performed with such a winning combination of incisiveness and inwardness. Despite the somewhat dated sound (hence four rather than five star rating) If you are searching for a bargain edition of the Beethoven duo sonatas, look no further. If you care to spend a wee bit more, then I would consider Perlman/Ashkenazy (warmer both in sound and approach), Kremer/Argerich (whimsical, mercurial, delightfully unpredictable), or Oistrakh/Oborin (a classic set in somewhat dated sound). Otherwise, I would place Schneiderhan well ahead of some more famous names, such as Heifetz (to slick), Mutter (too self-communing) and Zukerman (too sentimental).