COMPOSERS: Ludwig van Beethoven; Felix Mendelssohn
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven • Mendelssohn
WORKS: Beethoven: Violin Concerto; Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor
PERFORMER: Nikolaj Znaider (violin); Gewandhausorchester/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: Accentus ACC 20345
Focused, serious and gimmick-free, this DVD does what it says on the tin: it offers two superb performances by Nikolaj Znaider and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly, beautifully filmed, with sound quality to match. There’s an extra frisson for violinophiles: Znaider is playing a Guarneri del Gesù that once belonged to Fritz Kreisler. It looks almost as gorgeous as it sounds and this is the closest we can see its burnished tawny stripes without handling the fiddle itself.
Produced by Paul Smaczny, the film brings together concertos recorded on separate occasions. The Mendelssohn is from 2012, directed by Ute Feudel, and the Beethoven from 2014, directed by Michael Beyer; the approach nevertheless remains consistent. In both, camera work is well-judged and thoroughly attentive, with plenty of variety in the angles used.
The two works enjoy close links with each other, with Kreisler and with Leipzig. Mendelssohn, Chailly’s long-ago predecessor as conductor of this orchestra, wielded the baton for the Beethoven Violin Concerto several times, his soloists including the 13-year-old Joseph Joachim; and the first to perform Mendelssohn’s own concerto was Ferdinand David, the orchestra’s concertmaster. Kreisler played the Beethoven in the Gewandhaus in 1907; Znaider uses not only his violin, but also his extrovert cadenzas.
In these highly intelligent and technically flawless performances the two pieces’ essential qualities of strength and spirituality (Beethoven) and high energy and tenderness (Mendelssohn) are able to shine through, unimpeded. After each, Znaider plays a Bach sarabande as encore, pretty much perfectly. Historical performance fanatics may not approve; nevertheless it is hard to imagine any artists sounding more inspired by, and sympathetic to, the deeper natures of the works themselves.