Beethoven: Violin Concerto; Violin Romances, Opp. 40 & 50

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Arte Nova
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Violin Romances, Opp. 40 & 50
PERFORMER: Christian Tetzlaff (violin); Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/David Zinman
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 76994 2
I have mixed feelings about this release. David Zinman’s recordings of the Beethoven symphonies have rightly won warm reviews, for their freshness, directness and use of a corrected text, as well as for judicious employment of copies of original instruments. This recording of one of Beethoven’s most popular works will certainly strike any listener, from the opening bar onwards. It sounds as if those famous five drum-beats are played on kettles rather than kettledrums, and later, when they play fortissimo, it’s an extraordinary racket. The booklet notes stress the sharp contrast between military and lyric elements in the first movement, but this really is a giddy limit. The orchestra is often strident, accents are ferocious, and then when the solo violin enters it is coy, almost inaudible. And throughout the movement it is as if we were hearing a vastly enlarged version of the slow movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto, the solo instrument attempting to tame the orchestra’s Furies. I was flagging by the time it finished; and since the gifted Christian Tetzlaff plays the cadenza which Beethoven wrote for the piano version, with timpani obbligati, I’d had quite enough of the rasping of those drums. The other two movements are much better, but less distinctive. And the two slight but charming Romances, Beethoven’s nearest approach to ‘easy listening,’ receive affectionate readings. But for a more engaging account of the Concerto, for a similar price, try Kremer’s performance with Harnoncourt conducting.

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Michael Tanner