Beethoven: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Romances for Violin and Orchestra. Christian Tetzlaff, violin; David Zinman, Tonhalle Orchestre Zurich. Brilliant Classics 94857.

If you're a fan of what of what Maestro David Zinman and his Tonhalle Orchestre Zurich did with Beethoven's symphonies, you'll probably like what they and German violinist Christian Tetzlaff do with the Violin Concerto. The performances are of the same mold.

This is not to suggest that everyone will like Zinman/Tetzlaff's interpretation, however. Zinman adopts speeds that approach Beethoven's own tempo markings, which is to say zippy, and Tetzlaff uses several solo cadenzas that the composer originally wrote for one of the piano concertos. (Beethoven had later transcribed his violin concerto as a piano concerto, and Tetzlaff borrowed the cadenzas from it because he didn't think any of the other cadenzas written by other people fit in properly.)

Whatever, a lot of folks have grown up with slower, now more-traditional tempi in the concerto, and just as they might rebel against period-instrument groups following faster speeds, they might protest the fast speeds Zinman and his modern orchestra embrace. Likewise, a lot of especially older folks may have gotten so used to the cadenzas written by such notables as Fritz Kreisler or Joseph Joachim, that they could find Beethoven's own cadenzas, albeit for another work, alien to the violin piece. So the Zinman-Tetzlaff performance is not without its idiosyncrasies, for good or for bad.

My own reaction to the tempos and cadenzas was one of indifference given the spirit and vitality of the performance as a whole. While theirs does not sound like a conventional reading, the artists present a thoroughly enjoyable realization of the score. Tetzlaff offers up violin playing that sounds sweet, pure, and extremely articulate, while Zinman and his ensemble accompany him with a warm, lyrical, affectionate support. Together, one hardly notices the gait is quicker than usual (except in period-instrument renditions where we expect a speedier attack) or that the cadenzas are at all out of place.

Tetzlaff shows a fine craftsmanship and virtuosity throughout his playing yet never resorts to any undue showmanship. His performance is a welcome antidote to many of the more dreamy-eyed, sentimental interpretations available on record. While Tetzlaff's clearly focused reading cuts more quickly to the core than many of his competitors, however, it never fails to retain the emotional spirit of Beethoven. He succeeds in balancing the composer's more somber moods with the work's generally cheerful, uplifting countenance.

David Zinman
Moreover, Maestro Zinman accompanies Tetzlaff with an appropriate vigor (just listen to the intensity of those drumbeats in the first movement), and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra prove that their musical skills are every bit as virtuosic as the soloist's. Altogether, this rendition of Beethoven may or may not conform to everybody's idea of what the violin concerto should sound like, but one can hardly deny that Tetzlaff and company don't execute it well. While it may not be an absolute number-one choice in this repertoire, it is surely a feasible alternative.

As a coupling, Tetzlaff provides Beethoven's Romances for Violin and Orchestra, Nos. 1 and 2. Interestingly, the composer wrote the second of the Romances several years before he wrote the first one, but because of their order of publication, the latter one gets the earlier number. And it's not even clear why Beethoven wrote them; that is, for what occasion. In any case, they are highly popular and strongly Romantic. The Romance No. 1 is the slightly more serious of the two, which may have something to do with Beethoven's own development as a composer. Accordingly, Tetzlaff approaches the first piece with sense of loving restraint, beautifully carried out and offering a touch of nostalgia along the way. In No. 2 we hear Tetzlaff in a somewhat more-imposing though still highly refined mode. Very nice.

Producer Chris Hazell and engineer Simon Eadon recorded the music at Tonhalle Zurich, Switzerland in May 2005, originally releasing it on the Arte Nova label. Brilliant Classics rereleased it in 2015 under license from Sony Music Entertainment. The sound displays a good sense of depth in the orchestra, as well as a clean overall appearance, with little bass overhang. There's a good dynamic impact and range, too, and a fairly well balanced frequency response, showing little brightness, edginess, or dullness. If anything, there appears to be a small degree of upper midrange forwardness, although it's hardly noticeable and, in fact, adds to the overall clarity of the sonics. Both the high and low ends seem pretty well extended, though not exaggerated in any way, and the midrange is nicely transparent. The sound, in short, complements the unexaggerated nature of the music making.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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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