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Beethoven: Violin Concerto; Romances

Charlie Siem (violin); Philharmonia Orchestra/Oleg Caetani (Signum Classics)

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

Beethoven
Violin Concerto; Romances Nos 1 & 2
Charlie Siem (violin); Philharmonia Orchestra/Oleg Caetani
Signum Classics SIGCD704   54:08 mins

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The dark cover artwork says it all: this is serious business. Charlie Siem faces his audience head on, violin in hand. He’s not here for a programme of lollipops or virtuoso showpieces. This time round, we’re talking Beethoven.

And the approach of the British violinist, rather hyperbolically described in his biography as having ‘played a large part in defining what it means to be a true artist of the 21st century’ (well, he is pictured wearing a hoodie), certainly matches the stature of the music. On his 1735 Guarneri del Gesu violin, Siem produces a pure, sweet sound, accentuated by the resonant acoustic, and there’s something appealingly old-school about his playing.

But then the doubts start to set in: his tuning doesn’t always sound true enough as he spins Beethoven’s passagework in the Violin Concerto, and there’s a distracting tendency to accentuate the ends of phrases, particularly in the Larghetto. And while conductor Oleg Caetani draws warm playing from the Philharmonia Orchestra, the spark between orchestra and soloist never really catches fire. There are dozens of versions of the Concerto in the catalogue, and Siem needs to dig deeper into the meaning of Beethoven’s music to make his mark. In the meantime, try Isabelle Faust’s spellbinding performance with the Orchestra Mozart and Claudio Abbado conducting (on Harmonia Mundi), or Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s provocative version with the Orchestre des Champs-Elysees and conductor Philippe Herreweghe (on Naive).

The two Romances – from 1803 and 1805, just before the Violin Concerto – are natural companion pieces, lyrically played.

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Rebecca Franks