Bartók • Beethoven • Berg
Bartók: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2*; Beethoven: Violin Concerto**; Berg: Violin Concerto†
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin); Berlin Philharmonic/*Alan Gilbert, **Daniel Harding, †Kirill Petrenko
Berlin Phil BPHR 210151 118:36 mins (2 discs plus Blu-ray audio)
It seems only recently that Frank Peter Zimmermann first emerged on the international scene, yet he has now been playing concertos with the Berlin Philharmonic for some 36 years. In celebration, the orchestra has released a three-disc set (two CDs plus Blu-ray audio) featuring typically commanding live performances of the concertos by Beethoven (2019 with Daniel Harding), Berg (2020 with Kirill Petrenko) and Bartók (2016 with Alan Gilbert). All this presented in a robust, hardcover jacket, containing a 64-page booklet with various essays, plentiful illustrations and card jackets for the discs.
Anyone familiar with stereo recordings of the Beethoven by, say, Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Christian Ferras or Anne-Sophie Mutter, will know that the Berlin Philharmonic’s tonal proclivities (its unique woodwind blend, especially) are well suited to this glowing masterwork. Zimmermann, who plays the Fritz Kreisler cadenzas, brings a youthful energy and sparkle to the outer movements and unsentimental purity to the central Larghetto, reminiscent of his fine 1987 studio account with Jeffrey Tate and the English Chamber Orchestra for EMI.
Where this set really comes into its own, though, is with the 20th-century concertos, most especially the Berg, a work whose combination of Romantic cantabile, emotional thrust and tonally stretched world-weariness can feel semantically strained, yet sound utterly radiant here. Some might argue that (at least on paper) the Berlin Phil’s sophisticated blending tends to smooth over Bartók’s earthier moments, yet when the contrasting soundworlds of the two concertos – No. 2 is especially challenging – emerge with such luminescent intensity, with orchestra and soloist creating a palpable sense of devoted rapport, the results are hard to resist.