Beethoven, Berg: Violin Concertos

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Berg
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: Violin Concertos
PERFORMER: Arabella Steinbacher (violin); WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne/Andris Nelsons
CATALOGUE NO: C 778 091 A

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Here’s an unexpectedly effective coupling of two concertos that inhabit completely different worlds, the Berg exploring the anguish of death as opposed to the life-enhancing optimism of the Beethoven. Steinbacher certainly has the measure of both, delivering technically impeccable and beautifully shaped performances supported by fine orchestral playing and Orfeo’s very ambient recording.

Her poetic sensibility works particularly well in the Berg. What the performance lacks is a sense of forward momentum, so passages such as the opening of the second movement sound tame compared with the more intense interpretation offered by Daniel Hope with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Warner.

This reluctance to push the musical argument forward also affects the Beethoven. Andris Nelsons and WDR Symphony Orchestra set the tone with a heavily weighted orchestral tutti delivered in the grandest manner; Steinbacher holds back even more, lingering unnecessarily over certain phrases and subsequently applying the brakes to such an extent that the whole movement almost grinds to a standstill in places.

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Admittedly the ensuing Larghetto benefits from her beautifully modulated phrasing, but she is far too heavy in articulation to convey any sense of joy in the Rondo, a movement that sounds positively exultant in Lisa Batiashvili’s superb performance on Sony. Erik Levi