Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D; Romance No. 1; Romance No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Violin Concerto in D; Romance No. 1; Romance No. 2
PERFORMER: Thomas Zehetmair (violin); Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen
CATALOGUE NO: 462 123-2
Period performance still isn’t that common in the Beethoven Violin Concerto, but this CD needs no special pleading. It is, with one slight reservation, one of the finest recordings of the work available. (That reservation, to get it straight out of the way, concerns the overlong and inappropriate cadenzas by Wolfgang Schneiderhan.) First on the CD come the Romances, which set out the character of Zehetmair and Brüggen’s Beethoven. In pieces which can be a bit sleepy, the tempi are open-eyed and forward-looking; and Zehetmair’s sensitive use of vibrato, and variety of phrasing and colour are impressive and involving. The Concerto delivers everything that the Romances had foreshadowed, right from the timpani at the opening of the first movement, a true allegro, with pointed rhythms, and a full orchestral sound which absolutely compels you to listen – this orchestra has always been one of the gutsiest period bands. When Zehetmair enters, his playing is full of imagination: his passagework sparkles with musical life, his ornamentation is subtle, and he isn’t afraid to use the odd trace of portamento. In the slow movement his range of vibrato is astonishing, and the strong underlying pulse prevents the music from flagging. It was only when I had finished listening to the poised and good-humoured finale that I read the small print, and realised that all the performances were recorded live, which goes some way to explain the outgoing, generous nature of the music-making. This has to be the new benchmark for period performance, and is well up at the top against all comers.