Beethoven, Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; Violin Concerto in E minor

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Mendelssohn
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Violin Concerto in E minor
PERFORMER: Viktoria Mullova (violin); Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 473 872-2
Time and again in these performances of what are perhaps the two greatest 19th-century violin concertos I was struck by the warmth of the pianissimo tone Mullova produces with the aid of her gut-stringed fiddle. In particular, the slow movements of both works are quite beautifully handled, as are the quietly lyrical second subjects in the opening movements. But there is more to these pieces than intimacy, and there were times when I wished for greater intensity, as well as more variety of colour and characterisation. The finale of the Mendelssohn, in particular, is rather monochrome and ponderous on the part of both soloist and orchestra. This is music that needs to sparkle, and players such as Joshua Bell (Decca) or Vengerov (Teldec) have a good deal more fun with it. They are helped, too, by a more forward placing in the overall sound-picture than Philips’s engineers have given Mullova.

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Also on the sedate side is the opening Allegro of the Beethoven. Certainly, it’s a predominantly calm piece, but it needs to be kept moving if it’s not to sound episodic. There’s more sweep and drama, without any sacrifice of serenity, in the classic account by Wolfgang Schneiderhan with Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic (DG). Schneiderhan ingeniously adapts the wild and wacky cadenza Beethoven wrote for his piano adaptation of the Concerto (and without actually wheeling in a pianist, as on the eccentric recording by Gidon Kremer and Nikolaus Harnoncourt), but Mullova opts for a rather undistinguished new contribution by Ottavio Dantone. Misha Donat