Beethoven: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Romances 1 & 2.  Maxim Vengerov, violin; Mstislav Rostropovich, London Symphony Orchestra. EMI 0946 3 36403 2.

This is one sweet recording, from Vengerov's violin playing to Rostropovich's conducting and the LSO's accompaniment to the sound the EMI engineers capture at their famed Abbey Road Studio No. 1. This isn't to say the disc will please all listeners, but it may at least be interesting for its somewhat unusual approach.

Vengerov and company take a very Romantic view of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61, an interpretation that is quite a bit slower and more sentimental than some of us have lived with for so long. The opening Allegro ma non troppo, for instance, is mostly gentle and laid back; it has less bite than Szeryng and Haitink (Philips) provide, less drama than Perlman and Giulini (EMI), and less show than Heifetz and Munch (RCA). Instead, Vengerov and Rostropovich provide a haunting, lyrical vision of the piece, steeped in emotion and punctuated by tremendously dynamic outbursts from the orchestra. Is it what we're used to? No. Is it what most listeners want? Probably not. Is it worth hearing? Sure thing, if only for the novelty.

It's in the second movement Larghetto, though, where Vengerov comes into his own, the slow, languorous variations sounding more mournful than ever. However, I have to admit that this approach loses a lot of weight in the Rondo finale, where much of Beethoven's intended exuberance and joy is rather sucked out of the music. So, it's kind of a toss-up whether audiences will find it a worthy alternative to the best recordings available.

If anything, it's the Romances Nos. 1 and 2 for Violin and Orchestra that come up best, sounding a little better suited to Vengerov's approach. Are they enough to sell the disc? I don't know.

The EMI sound engineers do their part as well to provide the rather soft, slow, cushy performance with a soft, cushy, yet fairly close recording. It's maybe a little too well upholstered for ultimate midrange definition, but except for some areas of violin-orchestra imbalance it suits Vengerov's leisurely reading and makes for easy listening.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa