Beethoven: Violin Concerto, Romances - Ferschtman / de Vriend
Challenge Classics CC 72384
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major Op. 61, Romance No. 1 in G major Op. 40, Romance No. 2 in F major Op. 50
Liza Ferschtman (violin)
Netherlands Symphony Orchestra
Jan Willem de Vriend (conductor)
In history Beethoven's Violin concerto always seems to have had opponents and advocates, but a fact is that this piece has many layers which become clearer when musicians dive into it and give us, the audience, back a profound understanding of it in their performance. This is what violinist Liza Ferschtman does. She shows us her vision of this masterwork in a sublime and radiating performance which touches you to the bone. The chemistry between her as a soloist and the orchestra is very clear and beautiful indeed. The exquisite melodies of the Romances are a perfect addition to the concert.
Review by John Miller - January 8, 2011
It is a remarkable paradox that all the great C19th violin concertos were written by pianist-composers. Beethoven, himself a virtuoso pianist, received the usual training in violin during his formative years in Bonn, and later sometimes played viola in Viennese orchestras. He had further tuition in violin from several teachers, but apparently progressed to being no more than just competent on the instrument, playing in tune being a main problem, and his deafness finally stopped his playing.
Attracted by the vogue for French-style violin concertos around the end of the C18th, the young Beethoven essayed a Violin Concerto in C (WoO5). which survives only in a 259-bar fragment of the first movement. It already shows his insistence on symphonic development. Two further apprentice pieces appear on the present disc, the Romances for violin and orchestra Op.50 (c1798) and Op. 40 (c.1801-2). Beethoven was clearly developing his skills in scoring solo violin partly by osmosis from his friends, amongst whom were numbered some of the great violinists of the day, such as Rodolphe Kreutzer. This line of development culminated in the Op.61 Violin Concerto in D, which was written for a benefit concert in 1806 for Franz Clement, a prominent conductor-violinist in Vienna.
Beethoven was still completing the score on the eve of the concert, so poor Clement had to sight read it, and the orchestra was also unrehearsed. While the concert as a whole was successful (it included Clement playing a sonata on an upturned violin over his head between movements of the concerto!), critics were divided on the merits of Beethoven's new work ("ungrateful and unplayable"), and it more or less languished until 1832. A performance in London by the then 12 years old prodigy Joseph Joachim under the baton of Mendelssohn brought huge success, and the pair took the concerto on tour in Europe, establishing it firmly in the classical pantheon.
There are, of course, legions of fine recordings of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. But making choices is unexpectedly problematic. Beethoven's autograph contains many alternate passages for the soloist (probably added by Beethoven after the première in consultation with Clement), and these are taken at the artist's discretion. Because of the speed at which it was concocted, the autograph is hastily written and most subsequent editions (including some study scores) are corrupt, Beethoven having left unresolved a host of pitching, note-value and phrasing anomalies for the soloist and conductor to make decisions on. One scholar has remarked that "There are not two violinists in the world who interpret this work in the same manner; there are many who are guilty of crimes against Art in allowing themselves liberties in interpretation which would have shocked Beethoven himself".
There is also the matter of cadenzas. Unusually, Beethoven provided for a cadenza to be played in every movement of the concerto, but he never committed any written-out violin cadenzas to print. The great violinists have often published their own cadenzas; but few of these comfortably fit into the style of the piece, many using violin techniques unheard of in Beethoven's day. Others are frankly strange (e.g. Schnitke and Kennedy). Another major decision for the collector involves preference for modern performances with large orchestras, or period instrument and historically aware interpretations such as Mulllova and Gardener (Beethoven / Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos - Mullova / Gardiner).
On this Challenge SA-CD, Jan Willem de Vriend, well known from his crisply exciting Baroque and early music discs with his Combattimento Consort period instrument group, has trained his NSO players in period performing practises. They use mostly modern instruments except for period brass and hard sticks for the tympani. His performance here more than just supports the soloist, but gives a rhythmically alert and trenchant symphonic treatment to the score, full of drama and colour where required. The basses are strong and vibrant, and the suave NSO woodwinds in particular blend alluringly, dialoguing eloquently with the soloist.
For her part, Liza Ferschtman, born of Russian parents and very much a rising star as a violinist, taps directly into the vein of serene confidence which so characterises works from Beethoven's Middle Period. This concerto is mainly about lyrical songfulness rather than violinistic fireworks, and Ferschtman places her long lines without artifice and with touching simplicity. She and de Vriend opt for a naturally flowing, relaxed pace which draws the first movement along more compellingly than Gardner and Mullova. At its heart, Beethoven unusually provides a hushed and contemplative development section, which is quite magically atmospheric here. Quite rightly, the timpanist of the NSO is credited in the booklet, as he has a prominent part in the first movement, heard all the more clearly because of the dryish tone of the drums with hard sticks.
Ferschtman opts for the first movement cadenza which Beethoven wrote for his re-setting of the violin concerto as a piano concerto (hear the original at Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 - Mustonen), in a transcription by Wolfgang Schneiderhan. This is an unusual but fascinating choice. The cadenza, beginning with much double-stopping, is not only long and difficult, but includes a dialogue with the tympanist, involving the four-note rhythmic pattern which is such a crucial and pervasive element of the first movement. Some may think this cadenza is rather long, and it is rather startling at first, although it makes perfect sense on re-hearing. It does, however, represent Beethoven's own preferred style for a first movement cadenza.
Ferschtman brings forth the tender vocalise of the Larghetto with classical grace and pure tone, the NSO supporting with some lovely soft playing, full of hitherto unnoticed felicitous detail. At the movement's end, Beethoven offers another cadenza opportunity,for which, given the long cadenza in the first movement, Ferschtman wisely adds a brief roulade, swooping down to begin the Rondo finale without a break. By an old Viennese tradition, the catchy rondo theme itself is attributed to the concerto's first player, Franz Clement. Instead of digging into it with lusty rusticism, (exuberance is mostly left to the orchestra), Ferschtman prefers a delightfully fetching tongue-in-cheek humour with a lilting dance-like idiom (the movement is in 6/8 time). De Vriend unerringly grades the interludes all the way to the final chord, with much fun and sparkle on the way. For this movement, Ferschtman offers the Kreisler cadenza which is not too far removed from Beethoven in style, and she spins it with dizzying virtuosity.
Beethoven's two violin Romances are offered as fill-ups, appropriately appearing as preparatory concert bon-bons on the way to the concerto. Performances are sweetly affectionate, and the clarity of recording and orchestral detail makes them seem new-minted.
A major force in the success of this disc is the magnificent DSD recording by Northstar. The fullness of the Musicentrum Enschede hall resonance is captured best in the 5.1 multichannel track, where the 3-D image of the orchestra is breathtakingly realistic, the scores being rendered with astonishing detail. Balance is well-nigh perfect, with woodwinds well in evidence; the period brass are incisive at climaxes and the covered tone of the horns, especially in their distant echoes, adds much to the Larghetto. The balance between violin and orchestra seems ideal to me; there is no evidence of close spot-miking (bow noises, breathing) and both soloist and orchestra share exactly the same acoustic. This disc can be played cleanly at high volume levels, where its impact and presence is stunning, and only a few muted podium thumps from the conductor intrude. Challenge Classics' notes provide excellent biographical information, with a comprehensive essay on the birth of the concerto.
This is a set of Beethoven's music for violin and orchestra which positively glows, both in terms of performance and recording. Highly recommended, with the minor caveat about the unfamiliar and quite long Beethoven/Schneiderhan cadenza, which has quite grown on me.
Copyright © 2011 John Miller and HRAudio.net
Review by Adrian Quanjer - May 3, 2011
As I’m living in the country side I have no problem playing at high levels. But in this particular case: be warned!
But let’s turn to the music making first. An absolute thrill! It is by no means easy to add another Beethoven violin concerto to the catalogue that stands out in such a way. Her strong, yet feminine tone, the romantic beauty of her playing in the Larghetto and the dancing in the final movement, make you widen your ears in order to miss nothing of this refreshing experience. It should be added, however, that she owes much to the orchestral accompaniment and, last but not least, the attentive direction of the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra’s current ‘chef’ Jan Willem de Vriend.
He is the successor of Jaap van Zweeden, who shaped this provincial band into an ensemble that can successfully compete on the international scene. But it is de Vriend who brought ‘finesse’ as well as the precise playing we have come to appreciate from him at the helm of the Combattimento Consort Amsterdam. I shall not dwell too long on this subject since others, more familiar than I in writing reviews and choosing the befitting words (in their own language!), have already given all the praise it merrits.
One other thing, though: The cadenza in the first movement. It is less unusual than many think. I have heard it a couple of times before. Some find it awkward. Depends much on the way it’s played. I believe that Liza Ferschtman and Peter Prommel at the timpani (nice gesture to mention his name in the program notes) are absolutely convincing.
Time to turn to the recorded sound. The short of it is: if you need a disk to run in a new subwoofer, this is the one to buy. I thought the days of gramophone rumble were over. Not so, as far as the recording team of North Star is concerned. Touching the diaphragm of the speaker of my ground fired REL sub-woofer, the origin of this disturbing low level distortion was quickly found. Even if there was no low frequency material on offer, the voice coil kept moving at irregular intervals more than a centimeter up and down (at least, to me it felt that way). So, my advice: don’t play the music at high level as the recording may well turn out to be a sub-woofer killer.
For completeness sake, I checked with a couple of other Challenge records. Schubert songs (Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin - Prégardien / Gees): Excellent, no problem whatsoever; Bach, St. Matthew Passion (Bach: St Matthew Passion - Kuijken):Same problem, but to a lesser extent. And to make sure it wasn’t my sub-woofer, I checked with a Pentatone. Well, need I say more?
That said, I can highly recommend the playing and provided you switch-off your sub-woofer, there is more than enough to totally immerse yourself in this new and fresh approach to an old warhorse, the run of the mill interpretations we may have been taken all too easily for granted. 5 stars for performance and, sadly, no more than 4 for the recording.
Copyright © 2011 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net