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.
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: